In time of need, Tyler Murphy passes test for Gators

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — He stood calmly in front of a crowded room full of assembled media wearing a blue Gators polo shirt and an occasional smile.

He looked the part.

He sounded the part.

In Florida’s 31-17 win over Tennessee on Saturday, Tyler Murphy played the part.

Murphy played it well, too. Florida fans, meet your new starting quarterback.

He is a redshirt junior from Wethersfield, Conn. He was No. 10 until a few weeks ago when he switched to No. 3 because running back Valdez Showers wanted No. 10 for personal reasons.

“He is real selfless,” Gators center Jon Harrison said. “That’s his greatest attribute.”

The last time Murphy had thrown a pass in a game prior to Saturday was four years ago at Wethersfield High. He is 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, and by all accounts, Murphy is one of the Gators’ more studious players in the film room.

He goes to practice, and when it’s over, he often showers and then watches practice on film.

“He takes every rep at practice like he’s the starter,” Gators receiver Quinton Dunbar said. “I knew Murph would be prepared. He wasn’t nervous at all. He came in and already knew what to do.”

Murphy was called into action midway in the first quarter when starting quarterback Jeff Driskel suffered a season-ending right leg injury. Driskel’s leg was rolled over under pressure from Vols defensive end Marlon Walls.

As soon as he fell to the turf, Driskel waved to the sideline for the training staff. Meanwhile, his pass to the left sideline was picked off by Tennessee’s Devaun Swafford and returned 62 yards for a touchdown.

In a matter of seconds, the Gators lost their starting quarterback for the season, fell behind to the Vols, and then turned to Murphy for help.

The former state champion triple jumper pulled on his helmet and went to work. When it was over, Murphy had completed 8 of 14 passes for 134 yards, thrown a 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass to Solomon Patton, rushed for 84 yards, and capped Florida’s scoring with a 7-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter that put the Gators in control 31-10.

Not a bad day for a guy who was not a top recruit. A guy who didn’t know how big-time recruiting worked coming of high school and didn’t send a film to Florida until his senior season. A guy that when former UF offensive coordinator Steve Addazio called him to offer a scholarship in early 2010, he didn’t know whether to hang up or yell for joy.

“I wasn’t sure if someone was playing a prank on me or something like that,” Murphy said. “It’s an opportunity that many people don’t get.”

He got another opportunity Saturday and didn’t waste it in front of what was a very nervous Swamp after the Gators fell behind and Driskel went to the locker room on crutches.

But Murphy came in and on his first drive, completed his first collegiate pass — a 9-yard throw to Dunbar for a first down on third-and-6. After the Gators trimmed Tennessee’s lead to 7-3 late in the first quarter, Murphy threw a short pass to Patton that turned into a 52-yard touchdown.

The crowd roared. The Gators took a deep breath. Maybe everything was going to work out.

It did as Murphy passed every test the Vols threw his way.

“My hat’s off to him,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “He took the circumstances and defied what you would think a lot of backup guys would do in that situation. He hung in there and didn’t just manage our team, he produced.

“He had great production in critical situations in the game. Again, a guy comes out in the third quarter — it’s one thing when you get thrust in there; another when you get a chance to think about it — and two drives right down the field and made some really good decisions in the throwing game.”

After scoring only one touchdown in six trips to the red zone in their loss at Miami, the Gators scored four times (three touchdowns) on five trips to the red zone Saturday.

They also finished 10 of 18 on third-down conversions thanks in part to Murphy’s decision making and scrambling ability.

Murphy had a 28-yard run and on perhaps his best throw, he tossed a 31-yard completion to Dunbar on the Gators’ sideline.

Still, Murphy wasn’t ready to go skipping down University Avenue after the game.

“I’m not 100 percent happy with the way I played,” Murphy said. “I had a few messed up plays. I’ve just got to know that I’m the starter now and have to put my foot on the pedal and go.”

Murphy’s preparation as the starter won’t be much different than his role as the backup. He will show up at practice Monday to prepare for his first career start, next week at Kentucky.

There’s film to watch. Practice reps to take. Cadence to improve so he can avoid unexpected snaps.

Instead of being asked more questions about why he didn’t change positions or never transferred — “I enjoy this school. I have a lot of good friends here that I’ve become close with. I’m not really afraid of competition” — Murphy will be asked more about playing quarterback.

That’s all he ever wanted to do at Florida. He got his chance Saturday and cashed it in like a lottery ticket.

“I take a lot of pride in playing quarterback,” he said. “I’ve played it all my life. I just didn’t want to give up on it. It was always in the back of my mind that I might never play.

“I just kept working hard and kept faith in myself and praying for an opportunity. It wasn’t the way I wanted it, but an opportunity is an opportunity. You have to make the best of it.”

Florida fans, meet your new starting quarterback. If you are having trouble grasping that, don’t worry, you are not alone.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Murphy said. “It’s going to have to hit me soon.”