Florida never really recruited Tyler Murphy.
The junior quarterback from Wethersfield, Conn., had scholarship offers from Connecticut, Syracuse and Temple in 2009 when he decided to send his high school highlights about 1,000 miles south to Gainesville. It turned out to be a good move - although it took four years, Jacoby Brissett's transfer and Jeff Driskel's season-ending leg injury for Murphy to land the starting quarterback job.
Murphy will make his first career start Saturday night on the road against Kentucky, which has dropped 26 straight to the Gators.
Driskel broke a bone in his lower right leg in last week's 31-17 win over Tennessee. He was scheduled to have surgery Wednesday to insert a plate in his fibula and will be out 4-6 months, according to coach Will Muschamp.
Murphy took over and performed better than anyone could have predicted. Sure, there were a few hiccups. But Murphy gave the 20th-ranked Gators (2-1, 1-0 SEC) hope that their goals are still within reach.
He completed 8 of 14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 84 yards and a score. It was a solid debut for a career backup who had thrown just one pass in four years - and it didn't even count in the stats because it came on a 2-point conversion.
"It was always in the back of my mind I might never play, but I just kept working hard and just kept fighting, kept faith in myself and kept praying for an opportunity,'' Murphy said. "Luckily, I was able to get it. It wasn't the way I wanted it, you know, but an opportunity is an opportunity. You've got to make the best of it.''
Murphy went from fourth team in 2011 to third-string quarterback in 2012. Some friends and family members advised him to transfer, and he even considered joining former offensive coordinator Steve Addazio when he took the head coaching job at Temple prior to the 2011 season. Others suggested he switch positions.
"I just didn't want to give up,'' Murphy said. "I felt like if I changed positions, I would have gave up on myself and I probably wouldn't have been able to live with myself.''
Murphy stuck it out, and he became the backup this year when Brissett transferred to North Carolina State. He also got significant work with the first-team offense early in fall practice, while Driskel recovered from an appendectomy.
Still, most believed the Gators would be doomed if Driskel got hurt, and it remains to be seen how Murphy will play against better competition. But the poise and presence he showed against the Volunteers were promising signs.
"One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity,'' Muschamp said. "Everybody wants it now. He's a guy that's worked extremely hard and cashed in on his opportunity, and I look forward to seeing him play the rest of the year.''
Murphy's first start will come against a Kentucky defense that allowed 492 total yards in a 27-13 loss to No. 7 Louisville in its most recent contest Sept. 14. He'll be throwing to receivers coached by Joker Phillips, who went 13-24 in three years as head coach of the Wildcats before being fired after last season.
First-year coach Mark Stoops is hoping to get Kentucky (1-2, 0-0) on track as his team begins a stretch of playing three ranked opponents to begin the SEC schedule, with No. 12 South Carolina looming next week and a meeting with top-ranked Alabama set for Oct. 12.
The Wildcats committed three turnovers last week and now will face a Florida defense that had six takeaways against Tennessee and is allowing just 212.3 yards per game, the second-best average in the nation.
The Gators, though, will be without defensive tackle Dominique Easley - one of the team's best players - for the remainder of the season after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial meniscus in his right knee during a non-contact drill in practice Tuesday.
"They're very good defensively; as good as maybe anybody will play this year," Stoops said. "The last time we stepped on the field, we got better in certain areas. Let's hope we get better in all areas with this next game."
The health of starting quarterback Maxwell Smith might be a concern, though, after he was knocked out of the Louisville game in the third quarter with a left shoulder injury.
Smith underwent rehabilitation over the weekend and has been back at practice this week.
"Hopefully, he'll be on point," Stoops said. "We'll keep an eye on how many throws he's making, just to let him ease back into it."
Kentucky hasn't beaten Florida since winning 10-3 on Nov. 15, 1986. The Gators have won the last five meetings by an average of 40.4 points, including a 38-0 victory Sept. 22, 2012.