Murphy follows long line of backups pressed into duty


Like other backup quarterbacks before him, Florida's Tyler Murphy (3) has filled in for starter Jeff Driskel (6), whose season ended during the Tennessee game two weeks ago. (Staff photos by Matt Stamey/Photo illustration by Jon McDonald)

Published: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 9:45 p.m.

From a condo in Knoxville, Tenn., Don Strock watched Florida backup quarterback Tyler Murphy step in for injured Jeff Driskel and lead the Gators to a 31-17 win over Tennessee.

The former renowned backup quarterback for the Miami Dolphins came away impressed.

“He came in and did a heckuva job for them,” Strock said. “You could see they had some different calls for him, more mobile, get outside the pocket, probably a better passer outside the pocket. It's a shame what happened to Driskel, but I think they have a competitive guy there to take his place.”

Murphy will make just his second career start, and first at The Swamp, when Florida hosts Arkansas on Saturday. A fourth-year junior, Murphy has made the most of his opportunity, playing within himself to help lead the Gators to back-to-back SEC wins over the Vols and Kentucky.

But taking over the season for an injured starter isn't easy. Strock knows that well. In 1978, Strock started seven games for injured Hall of Fame starter Bob Griese when Griese suffered torn ligaments in his knee during the preseason. Stock went 5-2 during the seven starts, helping lead the Dolphins to a playoff appearance.

“My teammates had confidence in me that when I was in there, I was in there because we also had a chance to win,” Strock said. “The belief that I could win for them led to them playing winning football for me. I called my own plays my whole career with the Miami Dolphins, so I tried not to put myself in a position where I would make calls that I couldn't really perform.”

For example, Strock was not a mobile quarterback, so he rarely called bootlegs for himself. Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease has played to Murphy's mobility and ability to hit receivers on slant patterns.

“Obviously, the coaching staff knows the pluses and minuses of each player, so you hope that they would call plays accordingly,” Strock said.

For former Gator quarterback Noah Brindise, being a backup under former coach Steve Spurrier meant not knowing when your number would be called, from game to game or even play to play. In 1997, Brindise stepped in for a struggling Jesse Palmer to help lead the Gators to a 24-10 win over Auburn. Later that season, Brindise started against South Carolina, completing 7 of 15 passes for 139 yards in UF's 48-21 win over the Gamecocks.

“In any backup situation, and it was true with me, I never liked to be viewed as the backup quarterback,” Brindise said. “I wanted to be viewed as someone who could play when called upon. You go in, it's sort of a cliche, but you hear everybody say, you prepare every week like you are a starter and that's really the truth. That's how you have to handle that type of situation.”

Brindise, who lives in Gainesville and sells medical supplies, has been impressed with Murphy's poise and thinks he can continue to have success going forward.

“It's obvious to me that he's got the respect of the team and he's got command,” Brindise said. “You can just tell those things by watching him. You've got to remember he's been around a while, he's been in all of those meetings there, all the time. He doesn't take all the reps, he wasn't taking the majority of the reps, but he was still probably getting 25, 35 percent of the reps in practice. It's not like these guys are totally unfamiliar with him.”

As a backup quarterback at Miami, Georgia coach Mark Richt sat behind Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar during his college career.

“It's tough to stay ready because you know you need to be ready to be a starter and you may never be a starter,” Richt said. “You may never get your chance to play in the game, if it's close, as a backup quarterback. If it does happen, there you are and you've got to manage it immediately.”

Richt said he thinks Murphy will continue to have more success with increased reps in practice.

“You've got two weeks under your belt, everyone knows you're the starter and there's no question about it,” Richt said. “That preparation is different. You are more ready and you are getting all the reps with the ones, people are gaining confidence in you because you've performed well to this point. I think all those things are in his favor.”

Murphy admitted that in the week before his first career start at Kentucky, he found himself trying to do too much in practice. Several Florida teammates approached him and told him to just be himself. Florida coach Will Muschamp said he was pleased with how Murphy responded to his second-half interception in the Kentucky game.

“I think that's one of his strengths, his demeanor, how he handles things,” Muschamp said. “After the interception you would expect a guy to be down about things, but he understood what happened … he came back and bounced back and led us down the field the next drive.”

Strock said cool disposition comes from preparation, from living and breathing the game plan during the week despite not knowing when or if you will get a chance to play. Now that Murphy knows he's the leader of the offense, that preparation should continue to intensify.

“I expect he's going to get better every week,” Strock said. “They are getting into the heart of their schedule now, and I bet they hope he gets better now.”

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