Thursday, April 19, 2018
Colleges

Tyler Murphy emerges into Florida sunshine

GAINESVILLE

The last place Tyler Murphy thought he would be Saturday was standing under a spotlight on the podium in the media room explaining how he saved the day for the Gators in a 31-17 victory over Tennessee.

That's because before that, the last place anyone thought he would be Saturday was standing under center taking snaps as Florida's quarterback.

And that's because, before that, the last place anyone thought he would be Saturday was at the University of Florida.

He has been quarterback for the scout team. He has stood on the sideline. He has lined up as a wide receiver.

But until Saturday, Murphy had never thrown a pass for the Gators. Heck, he never played anything resembling a meaningful snap since high school in Connecticut four years ago.

That changed Saturday when he came on board to relieve an injured Jeff Driskel. Now the Gators' 2013 season rests in his hands and arm and legs with Driskel out for the season with a leg injury.

Before Saturday, the thought of Driskel missing the rest of the season would have had Gator Nation chasing Tums down with shots of Alka-Seltzer.

But considering Driskel's inconsistent start — three turnovers in a loss against Miami and an interception return for a touchdown on the play he was injured Saturday — Murphy's steadiness was and is a welcome sight.

Put it this way: So far, he at least seems to know which team to throw to.

He did have a comical snap-off-his-facemask fumble but otherwise was solid. He rushed for 90 yards and completed 8 of 14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown.

"He's a great example of a guy who showed that when your number is called at (Florida), you better respond at a high level," Gators coach Will Muschamp said. "We are so proud of him of stepping up, playing the way he played. That's hard to do, and he did it well."

Here's the deal: Murphy probably shouldn't even be at Florida. He was recruited by a few ho-hum Northeastern programs out of high school — Temple, Syracuse, UConn — and ended up at Florida only after a tape he sent impressed then-Gators coach Urban Meyer and assistant Steve Addazio.

When Meyer quit and Addazio left and they took their spread-option offense with them, most thought Murphy would leave, too. But he stuck around partly because of friends he made in school, partly because he hoped to eventually play and — isn't this refreshing? — he wanted to get his degree.

"You can't beat a degree from the University of Florida," said Murphy, a redshirt junior who will graduate in December with a degree in telecommunications.

Last season, when it was clear he wasn't going to be the starter or even the backup, Murphy was asked to switch to receiver. He asked if he could stick with quarterback, volunteering to work on the scout team.

"I just love playing quarterback," Murphy said. "I've played there all my life."

Murphy moved up to second on the depth chart before this season and then, in one of those everything-happens-for-a-reason moments, Driskel was sidelined a week with appendicitis in early August, allowing Murphy to work with the first team.

"If you get reps with the first team, you have to make the best of it," Murphy said.

On Saturday, Murphy didn't just manage the game. He ran, extended plays, made accurate throws and, mostly, pumped life into what had been a stagnant offense in the first two games.

He never let the moment — national TV and all — get the best of him.

On his first two drives of the second half, he directed the Gators on touchdown drives of 79 and 84 yards.

"The key offensive drives of the game," Muschamp said.

Now true, this was against Tennessee, a team that gave up 59 points and nearly 700 yards a week ago at Oregon. Murphy and the Gators can expect a much tougher time down the road against the likes of LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State.

Nevertheless, the Gators still have time to put together a special season.

They appear to have an elite defense, meaning their hopes now rely on a quarterback no one knew before Saturday.

So far, based on Saturday, that would be a good thing.

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