It only took Florida’s first three offensive possessions to show the rust of two weeks since the Gators’ last football game. The Gators lost the coin toss and soon after, their composure, which showed when punter Kyle Christy mishandled the snap to give Tennessee a first down at the Florida 15-yard line.
Florida got the ball back just two plays later when Dante Fowler Jr. went all Jadeveon Clowney on Tennessee, forcing and recovering a fumble but that’s when disaster struck.
On a third and three at the UT 41, Jeff Driskel was pressured in the pocket, looked to his left and threw late to the sideline where Devaun Swafford jumped the route and returned the ball 62 yards for a touchdown. The real consequence of the play, however, was laying on the ground around the Gator head at midfield.
Visibly in pain, Driskel called for the training staff while holding his right ankle. He didn’t know it at the time but his fibula was broken and it will require season-ending surgery.
A year, a month, a week or even a few days ago, consensus was that if Driskel went down with an injury the Gators would be in serious trouble. To be honest, I thought the game was over the moment Driskel went dow, meaning a quarterback who had never thrown a pass in four years in Gainesville would direct the offense.
What Tyler Murphy did the rest of the game proved an awful lot of Gator fans and pundits wrong. Murphy brought with him a calming presence and the poise of a veteran signal caller. He went through progressions, used his mobility to take advantage of Tennessee’s defense, made great reads running the option and even aired the pigskin out a little bit. It wasn’t the performance of a guy who has played second and even third fiddle behind the likes of John Brantley, Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett the last four years.
“One man’s misfortunes are another man’s opportunities; Tyler Murphy certainly took advantage of this opportunity,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “We are very proud of him. We told the football team in the locker room that he [Murphy] 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.”
The Gators could have very well gone into panic mode when they saw Driskel in such pain. Tailback Mack Brown called Driskel the toughest human he’s ever met and and to see him calling the trainers out to the field alarmed Brown and probably a majority of the team, but instead of panicking, the Gators found their composure and rallied behind the former backup to come from behind for their second win of the season.
“Man down, man up,” defensive end Dante Fowler said. “And, when you need to play, you have to play at a higher level and that’s what he did and I’m very proud of Murphy. Even though he was a backup, he still watched film and practices as a starter so he was very prepared. So when he came in, nobody panicked.”
While Murphy was leading the Gator offense, the defense was continuing to make their case to be considered the best unit in the country. Florida’s defense was stifling. Tennessee went into the locker room at halftime with more turnovers (4) than first downs (3) and only 31 yards of offense on 25 plays. It was quite a difference from the first half two weeks ago against Miami.
After publicly calling out the defense for their early-game performance against Miami, Muschamp was quick to sing the praises of his defense Saturday evening.
“They kept us in the ballgame and let us catch our breath a little bit.” Muschamp said. “Our guys understand and know they better respond when they’re put in those situations.”
The defense responded and they will be required to respond the rest of the way. Tyler Murphy took the Vols by surprise on Saturday but he won’t take anyone by surprise the rest of the season. Opposing teams will soon have tape on Murphy and LSU will have basically three full games of tape before Murphy leads the Gators into Death Valley.
The Florida Gators took a step forward towards their goal of playing for an SEC Championship today. Starting 1-0 in the SEC and extending their winning steal to nine consecutive games against the hated Volunteers somewhat softens the blow of losing Driskel for the season.
This is Tyler Murphy’s team now.
Man down, man up.