Saturday, September 21, 2013
Murphy shines for UF after Driskel injury
By Edward Aschoff
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A little more than six minutes into Saturday's game with Tennessee, Florida's worst fears entering the season became a reality.
Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- the only quarterback on the roster to attempt an official pass during his college career -- went down with a broken leg that ended his 2013 season.
The team that has one of the smallest margins for error in the SEC just lost its starting quarterback and would have to rely on total inexperience in its SEC opener.
Florida's coaching staff runs out to quarterback Jeff Driskel after he broke his leg throwing a first-quarter pass against Tennessee.
Then, Tyler Murphy took the stage, looking to dig the Gators out of an early 7-0 hole. The way Florida's offense has moved this season, it seemed uncertain.
But a funny thing happened when Murphy, a former two-star recruit who owned few college offers during his senior year of high school, took the field: The offense actually went forward. There were some hiccups and gaffes along the way, but Murphy was able to lead the Gators to 17 straight first-half points in Florida's 31-17 win over the Vols.
He threw for 134 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 84 yards and another score. After a mostly laughable first half filled with turnovers and head-scratchers from both teams, Murphy looked poised and controlled in his first career win.
"It wasn't the way I wanted it, but an opportunity is an opportunity," said Murphy, who was a very late addition to Urban Meyer's 2010 recruiting class.
It was a cruel outcome for Driskel, who was already having an up-and-down start to the season, and Florida coach Will Muschamp understands the blow this is for his team. Despite Driskel's inconsistencies, he entered the game with a 10-3 record as a starter, and was slowly progressing in Florida's passing game.
"I hurt for him, I hurt for us right now," Muschamp said. "Jeff's a good football player and it's going to hurt us. He's a guy who's won a lot of ball games here, so I'm disappointed for him right now."
Now, Murphy, who had sat behind five quarterbacks in his career before Saturday's game, has the chore of leading the Gators for the rest of the season. The question is what changes and what stays the same.
Shortly after Murphy's exciting debut, Muschamp and his players agreed that most of the offense won't change going forward, but Muschamp hinted that there could be tweaks in the passing game to fit Murphy's skill set. With both being running quarterbacks, the Gators' game plans going forward shouldn't be too different.
Backup quarterback Tyler Murphy ran 10 times for 84 yards and a touchdown.
After a shaky start, Murphy showed real poise in the pocket. What really loosened him up was his 52-yard touchdown pass to receiver Solomon Patton on a screen that made it 10-7 Florida early in the second quarter. The in-game development really showed when he led the Gators on back-to-back 79-yard touchdown drives. During the first one, he connected with Quinton Dunbar on a beautifully placed 31-yard, over-the-shoulder pass down the right sideline. He totaled 115 yards off offense on those drives.
"I was able to eventually get comfortable and get into a little groove and try and manage," Murphy said.
Murphy said his preparation doesn't change, but the pressure is on. This is his team now. His name was trending on Twitter on Saturday night, and Florida students chanted his name late in the fourth quarter. Considering the circumstances, Murphy performed well, but Tennessee's defense surrendered nearly 700 yards and 59 points to Oregon last week and is still a work in progress.
Remember when Driskel was regarded as a true up-and-comer after he registered 300 yards of offense and two touchdowns against Tennessee last year? He ended the season averaging just 137 passing yards and carried a mountain of criticism into this season.
For all the fans wanting to see a change at quarterback, they got their wish Saturday. But they shouldn't expect life without Driskel to be easier. Tennessee's defense is nothing special, and Murphy hasn't seen or been through anything Driskel has in two-plus years. Life as the starting QB at an SEC school is very foreign to Murphy, but he at least has a lot of support from his teammates.
"We have all faith, all trust in Tyler Murphy," center Jonotthan Harrison said. "He's been here longer than Driskel, and he's real in tune with the offense. He knows what's going on, and that's what we love about him."
Before Saturday, Murphy had spent his entire career waiting in the wings, but he said he treated every rep like he was the starter. He got valuable time with the first team during fall camp after Driskel's emergency appendectomy and took more reps with the first-team during the bye week when Driskel was sidelined with a sprained knee.
When Driskel went down again, Murphy was there to clean things up. It was an improbable outcome for a player buried on the depth chart for years, but it was a testament to the work Murphy has put in away from game time.
"One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity," Muschamp said. "Tyler Murphy certainly took advantage of that opportunity today with his snaps.
"He took the circumstances and defied what you would think a lot of backup guys would do in that situation and went in there and didn't just manage our team; he produced. He had great production in critical situations in the game."