- Brett McMurphy, College football reporter
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy is an all-world talent. He’s rated as the top defensive back in the 2014 NFL Draft by ESPN Scouts Inc.
Saturday against Arkansas, Purifoy returned an interception 42 yards for the Gators’ first touchdown in UF’s 30-10 victory. It was, however, only the first interception of Purifoy’s career -- and now he needs only about 99 more interceptions to meet all the unrealistic expectations.
“Just because he doesn’t have 100 interceptions, [others] don’t think he’s playing well,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “That’s really not the case. He’s played really well.
“He hasn’t had many opportunities. He hasn’t had many balls thrown his way. Sometimes statistically is how we can prove how someone’s playing. That’s not the case with him. He’s played well.”
In the early going, Purifoy was the Gators’ best offensive player -- while playing defense.
“When I saw [Allen] had the ball in his hand, my eyes got big,” Purifoy said. “I get a chance to tee off on the quarterback.”
Then in the second quarter, Purifoy turned a 7-3 UF deficit into a 10-7 lead, returning Allen’s pass into the end zone.
“I’ve been waiting my turn," Purifoy said. "It came tonight."
Added Muschamp: “I’ve seen that play a lot, but I haven’t seen him finish that play. He’s been in that position and he bats them down sometimes. But to finish on that play and create some momentum and get the crowd going -- the top came off the place when that happened. I thought it was impressive.”
Purifoy’s touchdown sparked the Gators (4-1, 3-0) to their 10th victory in their last 11 SEC games.
While Purifoy made the big plays defensively, the Gators’ offense showed more improvement behind quarterback Tyler Murphy.
Making only the second start of his career since replacing Jeff Driskel, who is out for the year with a broken leg, Murphy threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 16 of 22 passes, and the Gators’ offense no longer looked offensive, like it did at times with the more experienced Driskel.
"I'm getting more comfortable and I just have to keep getting better," Murphy said.
What makes Murphy’s story even more amazing is out of high school he didn't have many scholarship offers and verbally committed to coach Al Golden at Temple. Late in the recruiting process then-Florida coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Steve Addazio offered Murphy a scholarship.
With Golden’s blessing, Murphy visited Gainesville and ended up signing with Florida.
“I want to personally thank Steve Addazio for offering him a scholarship,” Muschamp said.
Still, when Murphy arrived in Gainesville, he was beat out by Driskel, buried on the depth chart and contemplated changing positions to get more playing time. Then Driskel got hurt two weeks ago against Tennessee and now Murphy has taken over.
“He’s got a great feel for game,” Muschamp said. “He’s extremely smart, very intelligent, has a great pocket presence. He’s a natural leader. We always felt that way.
"When some guys get their opportunities, they take advantage and cash in on it.”
With Murphy breathing life into a Gators’ passing offense that ranked 97th nationally, Florida all of sudden has a different look. A serviceable, and sometimes explosive, offense with a defense that rarely bends or breaks.
Consider this: Saturday marked the 12th consecutive SEC game Florida has allowed 20 or fewer points. That’s the league’s longest current streak. The next longest current streak belongs to Alabama, which has done it for all of one game.
As one Gator official remarked after Florida held Arkansas to 10 points: “How many points did these guys score last week against Texas A&M?” That would be 33 points.
Ironically, the last time Florida’s defense surrendered 33 points or more in an SEC game was in 2011 -- its last trip to LSU (41), the worst loss in the Muschamp era, where the Gators are headed next week.
“We weren’t equipped from a physical standpoint to play against that team (in 2011), our roster wasn’t were it needed to be,” Muschamp said. “We’ve come a long way.”
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