UF reigns over Kentucky
Published: Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 11:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 12:16 a.m.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — All those who watched Tyler Murphy perform Saturday night probably may find it hard to believe, but the Florida quarterback said he had to cope with some early nerves in his starting debut.
1. Quarterback Tyler Murphy came up big in his starting debut, throwing for a touchdown and rushing for one in a highly efficient performance that saw him complete his first 13 passes on the night.
2. Looking completely recovered from a preseason viral infection, sophomore tailback Matt Jones had a career game, rushing for 176 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
3. The UF defense was in control throughout, producing five sacks and an interception in the end zone by Vernon Hargreaves III. The Gators limited UK to 173 total yards.
-- Robbie Andreu
If he did, it certainly wasn't reflected in his play.
In helping lead the No. 20 Gators (3-1 overall and 2-0 in the SEC) to a 24-7 victory over Kentucky, Murphy only confirmed all the qualities he revealed for the first time a week ago when he came off the bench to replace the injured Jeff Driskel.
Poised, calm, comfortable in the pocket and confident running the offense, the redshirt junior threw a touchdown pass, ran for another TD and led the Gators on three long touchdown drives in the first half to bring a happy ending to what had been a tough week for UF.
“I had a few nerves,” Murphy said. “Like any other game. Once I handed the ball off to Matt Jones and hit a little swing pass (to Trey Burton on the opening drive), I just settled down and the offense got going.
“I felt really calm (after that). I had the support of my teammates all week. They showed up and made big plays for me today. It made my job real easy.”
No one made it easier for him than Jones, who had a career night, rushing for 176 yards (three more yards than the entire UK offense gained) and a touchdown. The Florida defense also pitched in, throwing a shutout (the Wildcats only score came on a fake field goal) and limiting UK to a mere 48 yards rushing and 173 total yards.
Murphy and the offense set the tone early, taking the opening kickoff and driving 93 yards on 13 plays, culminating the march with a two-yard TD run by Jones.
Murphy, who completed all 11 of his pass attempts in the first half (and his first 13 in the game), also engineered TD drives of 79 and 62 yards in the second quarter that put the Gators in command, 21-7 at the half.
“I'm very proud of Tyler Murphy,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “He made really good decisions.
“He's a very cerebral kid, very smart. He gets the game. He did a really good job of putting us in good situations. We check to everything in the running game based on a look, and he did a great job.
“I'm really proud of his performance. He continues to improve and gain confidence. Our team has always had confidence in him, and the coaching staff has always had confidence in him. He really played well.”
As proficient as Murphy was Saturday night, one could argue that the best player on the field was Jones, who struggled in the past two games after missing all of camp and the opener with a viral infection.
Jones had a breakout game only a few days after Muschamp expressed confidence in him in a Monday meeting in Muschamp's office.
“I'm real proud of Matt,” Muschamp said. “I pulled Matt in Monday and said, 'Man, you need to cut it loose and play. You're very tentative when you're running. You look like last year (early in the season). If you make a mistake, put it on me. I don't care. Just run the ball hard and make those cuts.'
“That's what you got from him.”
UF's other touchdowns came on nine-yard pass from Murphy to Burton (who has now scored eight TDs against UK in his career) and a five-yard run by Murphy on a read option. Austin Hardin sealed the victory with a 33-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats' (1-3, 0-1 SEC) only touchdown came on special teams, when kicker Joe Mansour scored on a 25-yard run on a fake field goal in the first quarter to make it a 7-7 game.
UF controlled both lines of scrimmage throughout, especially the offensive line when the Gators pounded the ball on the ground for most of the second half.
“With the surge we were getting up front, why throw it?” Muschamp said. “Continue to do what's working.”
Florida's victory brought a bright end to what had been a dreary week for the Gators. Only a few days after losing Driskel for the season with a broken leg, the Gators lost their best defensive player, senior tackle Dominique Easley, for the year with a major knee injury.
“You can't always control your circumstances in life,” Muschamp said. “I told our players, no excuses and no regrets. That's just who we are. We have an expectation level here at Florida about what we're going to do and where we're headed with our program.
“I'm very pleased with how our guys pulled together, how Gator Nation pulled together, and came up here and did what we did.”
UK coach Mark Stoops was impressed.
“Give Florida credit, they did what I was worried about going into the game,” he said. “They really controlled both lines of scrimmage the entire game. Very physical team.
“Right from the opening drive, they kind of set the tone of what the night was going to be like. It's a very good football team, very physical.”