Posted: 9:00 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013
Florida has now entered the Tyler Murphy era with Jeff Driskel out for the season. It's kind of hard to believe that a single injury has put the Gators in a place where they're starting a two-star recruit under center, but that's the way it is now.
Of course, Murphy didn't look like a two-star guy in this three-and-a-half quarters of work against Tennessee. His line was decent enough: 8/14 (57%) at a 9.6 yards per pass clip with a TD and no INTs. He also rushed 10 times for 8.4 yards per rush, and, in contrast to Driskel's entire body of work, he didn't take any sacks. The only big miscue was when he and center Jon Harrison got their signals crossed and Harrison snapped it before Murphy was ready, leading to a lost fumble. Presumably that sort of thing will get ironed out with Murphy taking most of the snaps in practice from here on out.
Some of the post game analysis consisted of remarking that the fact that Driskel is out for the season means that Florida won't have a quarterback controversy. While that certainly could have been true among fans and the media, I don't know that it would have been within the team. These coaches have been watching Driskel and Murphy for years and there was never a hint of a controversy on their end. When Murphy got to run the offense with the first team for two weeks in August while Driskel missed time due to an appendectomy, no one said a word about Murphy moving in on Driskel's spot. Even when Florida had a couple of open practices, none of the beat writers saw anything that made them think that Driskel's job was in jeopardy.
The fact of the matter is that Tennessee is just not a good team right now, and its defense is not picking up slack where its offense is failing. Murphy's 9.6 yards per pass is higher than all but two of Driskel's full-game rates as a starter. One of the ones that was better was Driskel's 2012 performance against Tennessee, in which he threw for 11 yards per pass. Furthermore, a bubble screen that Solomon Patton took for 52 yards is padding Murphy's line; he went for only 6.3 yards per pass in his 13 other throws.
Just looking at the schedule, Murphy's performance against Tennessee is probably going to be no lower than about his third best on the season. He might do better against Kentucky, Georgia Southern, and maybe even Arkansas, but it's hard to imagine him having a lesser game against Tennessee compared to what he'll do versus LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida State.
Of course, Florida only needs him to do so much given its defense. Florida won five games last year with fewer than 120 passing yards with a similarly good D. The 2013 defense is capable of holding its end up, though neither Matt Jones nor Mack Brown have so far been on Mike Gillislee's '12 level. Murphy's ability to move around helps, but Driskel was no slouch when healthy. Just ask Vandy, against whom he ran for 177 yards last year.
Certainly as a Florida fan, I am hoping to see good play out of Murphy the rest of this year. Perhaps whatever limitations he has throwing the ball that kept him behind Driskel will translate into adjusted offensive scheming that more fully exploits a mobile quarterback. It never seemed like they did enough of that with Driskel, though Driskel was seldom healthy enough to justify him carrying the ball a ton. Then again, only freshmen (and none of them blue chippers) are behind Murphy on the depth chart. If Murphy takes a shot or two, Brent Pease might put him in bubble wrap before sending him out on the field.
Realistically, Florida's coaches are going to ask Murphy to be a game manager, with all that the term euphemistically entails. Sure he played well after a couple of bad drives with Driskel, but Florida was probably going to have a good offensive day anyway because Tennessee's defense isn't good. Nothing about Patton's 52-yard bubble screen scamper required Murphy under center, and several of his better throws were ones Driskel connected on against Toledo and Miami (FL).
I know that when the backup comes off the bench and leads the team to victory that the sportswriting handbook requires at least a week of glowing and uncritical praise, and I also know that Murphy will probably look all right against Kentucky this coming weekend. However, I don't expect him to contribute much more than Driskel would have. In fact, given the clear separation between the two that has existed since Driskel was the primary backup (before getting hurt, natch) as a true freshman in 2011, Murphy doing what Driskel would have done is, if anything, a bonus.
Florida will lean on the defense and running backs as hard as ever, and it's basically Murphy's job not to turn it over. If he can do that, he'll be just fine. But don't expect a whole lot more than "just fine" the rest of the way.