Gold reserve: UF tops Tennessee


The Gators celebrate Florida Gators wide receiver Solomon Patton's (83) touchdown reception against Tennessee during the first half in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, September 21, 2013. (Doug Finger/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 9:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 10:59 p.m.

Dating all the way back to last spring, many in Gator Nation have been wondering and worrying about what would happen if starting quarterback Jeff Driskel went down with an injury this season.

Facts

Three things

1. Junior Tyler Murphy, who came into Saturday's game having never thrown a pass in his Florida career, stepped in for the injured Jeff Driskel in the first quarter and guided the Gators to the come-from-behind win.

2. Murphy threw for 134 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 84 yards and another score to give UF the victory in its SEC opener. It was UF's ninth consecutive win over UT.

3. While Murphy and the offense were working to figure things out, the Gators stayed in the game thanks to a dominating performance by the defense, which held the Vols to 31 yards and three first downs in the first half.

--- Robbie Andreu

Most of the predictions were dire. Gloom and doom would certainly follow. A disaster of possible epic proportions would engulf the Gators, ruining their season.

Well, that moment that so many have been fearing occurred in The Swamp early in Saturday's SEC opener against Tennessee.

Early in the first quarter, Driskel tried to unleash a pass as he was getting hit. His errant throw was intercepted and returned 62 yards for a touchdown. That wasn't the worst of it. After the play, Driskel remained lying on the field with what would later be diagnosed as a broken lower right leg. He will miss the rest of the season following surgery.

Suddenly down 7-0 and their starting quarterback (and their only quarterback with any experience) gone, disaster was on the Gators' doorstep.

But redshirt junior Tyler Murphy, who had never thrown or completed a pass in his college career, strode off the bench and helped the Gators side-step disaster. He helped them run away from it, throw over it, move around it, make plays in the face of it.

Led by Murphy's arm and his legs (and certainly his poise), the Gators turned a potential nightmare afternoon before 90,074 fans into a 31-17 victory over the Vols, UF's ninth consecutive win in the rivalry.

“One man's misfortunes are another man's opportunities,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “Tyler Murphy certainly took advantage of this opportunity. We are very proud of him. We told the football team in the locker room that he is a great example of a guy who showed that when your number is called at the University of Florida, you better respond at a high level.

“For a backup guy that takes about one-fourth of the reps in practice during the week, to do that, he worked extremely hard and he took advantage of his reps. We're so proud of him stepping up and playing the way he did and directing our offense.

“That's very difficult to do, and he did it very well.”

Murphy is no longer the backup. He's the Florida quarterback. And while Driskel's injury still could have a big impact on the season, UF fans and players were embracing Murphy late Saturday afternoon.

Fans were chanting his name near the end of the game. A few minutes later, his teammates were praising Murphy for the way he came off the bench and led UF to the win.

“We didn't miss a beat (when he came in the game),” wide receiver Quinton Dunbar said. “He knew what to do.”

Murphy completed eight of 14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown and ran for 84 yards and another score. He converted key third downs, he got the Gators in the end zone on their trips to the red zone, he managed and led the offense with apparent poise and confidence.

Murphy admitted he was nervous on his first few possessions.

“I was a little nervous,” he said. “That's the first time I've played in an actual game since high school.”

Murphy said he settled down and started playing with confidence after senior wide receiver Solomon Patton took a screen pass from him and turned it into a 52-yard touchdown that gave the Gators their first lead, 10-7 early in the second quarter.

“My job was easy,” Murphy said. “Solo did all the work. I went over to him after the play and thanked him. He allowed me to feel comfortable.”

Murphy led the Gators to touchdowns on their next three possessions — one late in the second quarter, one midway through the third and one early in the fourth — to build an insurmountable 31-10 lead.

“He didn't just manage our team, he produced in critical situations,” Muschamp said. “He made some huge (plays) in the game for us — a huge third-down conversion to Quinton Dunbar down the sidelines (for 31 yards and a first down), and he kept some drives alive with his feet.

“He managed the game extremely well and made plays.”

Murphy's teammates said they were not surprised by his play Saturday.

“Man up, man down,” said defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., who forced two fumbles, recovering one. “When you need to play, you have to play at a higher level and that's what he did. I'm very proud of Murphy.

“Even though he was a back-up, he still watches film and practices like he is a starter, so he was very prepared. When he came in, nobody panicked. I'm very proud of him.”

The players are feeling good for Murphy, while at the same time feeling bad for Driskel.

“It's sad, I feel for him,” senior wide receiver Trey Burton said. “I'm praying for him; wish him the best. He'll still be here, still be around leading things.”

But he's not the quarterback going forward this season. Murphy is.

“It hasn't really hit me yet,” Murphy said. “But it's going to have to hit me soon. We have to keep getting better and moving forward.”

The Gators sound ready to move forward with Murphy.

“We have all faith and all trust in Tyler Murphy,” senior center Jon Harrison said. “He's been here longer than Driskel and he's real in tune with the offense. He know what's going on.”

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