- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Tyler Murphy's facial expressions rarely change. They're bland yet stoic, and focused on the field. Smiles, frowns and sulks are rare in nature.
It's not that he's unhappy, he's just in a relaxed football state of mind. It's been a wild few weeks for Florida's new starting quarterback, but he owes his success to his calm on-field demeanor.
That attitude will be tested on Saturday when he travels to face No. 10 LSU (5-1, 2-1 SEC) in the first daunting road test of his career.
"I try to stay calm and as poised as possible," said Murphy, who has passed for 530 yards and five touchdowns since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel.
Somehow, with everything buzzing around him, Murphy hasn't flinched. He stood tall in relief duty against Tennessee, was smooth in a comfortable win at Kentucky and threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns last week against Arkansas. His 209.4 rating against Arkansas was the highest for a Gator QB against an SEC opponent since Rex Grossman's 235.9 rating against LSU in 2001. With help from Murphy's efficient play, Florida is the only SEC team -- and one of only 10 teams nationally -- to have three wide receivers with more than 270 receiving yards.
His 2-0 starting record might not mean squat this weekend. Murphy, who has completed 72.2 percent of his passes and has an adjusted QBR of 96.5, will enter a ferocious environment inside Tiger Stadium, where LSU is 53-7 under coach Les Miles, has won 27 of its last 28 games and seems to gobble up inexperienced quarterbacks.
Murphy might be calm, cool and collected now, but it'll be tough to fight nerves when he steps inside one of the loudest venues in America and is engulfed in a sea of purple and gold. He was there for Florida's 41-11 drubbing in 2011 and, like Jacoby Brissett then, enters Saturday's game as the new guy under center.
Murphy has never played in a hostile, anti-Gators environment like this, but he's been inside it and grew up watching plenty of LSU games with his father. Will that be enough to prepare him for the scene waiting for him on the Bayou?
"It's definitely going to be a hostile environment and I'm going to have to focus on blocking it out, focus on my attention during the game," Murphy said. "I'm prepared for that and you never really know how bad it's going to be until you're actually in the situation.
"I'll have a good grasp on what to expect going into the game."
You have to like the confidence. It isn't arrogance, it's just Murphy's natural nonchalant attitude. He stays collected in the pocket, on the sideline and in practices.
He isn't a yoga guy, doesn't meditate or read inspirational literature to relax away from the game. He listens to music. Jay-Z echoes inside his bedroom to loosen him up, but it's his love for Motown that keeps him the most relaxed. Thanks to his dad, Murphy grew up with it flowing throughout his house, and the soft, cool lyrics accompanied by smooth instrumentals calm his nerves.
You can catch him bobbing to The Temptations or Stevie Wonder on a daily basis. He doesn't have a favorite artist, group or song, but that old-school vibe sends Murphy into a relaxed state that he says helps him focus when he's back in the football world.
"I just find it really fun for some reason," Murphy said.
And the season has been really fun for him so far. He's surpassed expectations and has sparked a more balanced attack from Florida's usually one-dimensional, run-first offense. When the Gators only mustered 115 rushing yards (2.8 yards per carry) against Arkansas, Murphy delivered clutch passes, finding guys in space to do the rest.
His calm demeanor shows in how patient he is with his passes and how he slips through tackles to extend plays.
"I'm just glad he doesn't force anything and makes smart decisions," wide receiver Solomon Patton said. "That's real big, and that has a lot to do with the success that our offense has had with him not making any unnecessary throws and getting down when he needs to."
Murphy isn't very vocal, but he immerses himself in the offense. He stays late after practice, bombards his coaches with questions, and serves as a motivator through good and bad times with his teammates.
Murphy will need to lean on his laid-back persona in Baton Rouge. That unsympathetic environment and aggressive defense looking to make a statement will be breathing down his neck, looking to knock the cool right out of him.
"They say, 'Never let them see you sweat,' so I try to remain calm and continue to execute," he said. "The more I prepare, the more comfortable I feel, so I'm going to need a great week of preparation."
16hAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf
2dEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf