This time it was a win and a loss. The Gators handled Tennessee, 31-17, for their ninth straight win over the Vols but they lost their starting quarterback in the process. Junior Jeff Diskel suffered a broken leg early in the game and is out for the remainder of the season. Just how big a blow that will prove to be remains to be seen. There are some who believe this was a fortuitous event for the Gators. I caution them to wait for more data before they walk too far out on that limb. The former starter was not what you think and the new starter may well not live up to the early hype. Either way, Driskel is gone for the season. His last pass of 2013 would prove to be a pick-six that I believe was actually caused by the injury. Watching the replay several times, it appears that his ankle is already caving before the ball leaves his hand. I sprain one of my ankles about every other year and I’m not really sure why other than the fact that I am a klutz. But, even before there is even time for all of the weight to come down on it the pain is unbelievable which leads me to believe Driskel’s injury changed to flight of that pass. If thrown properly I believe that it would have been completed and perhaps for a nice gain but that’s something we’ll never know. Unfortunately, Driskel’s last play of the year is a turnover and now the Gators move on without him. If you had asked me four weeks ago what the Gators’ prospects would be without Jeff I would have said, “Not good” but now I am not so sure.
One man’s injury is another man’s opportunity. Tyler Murphy came in to lead Florida to the victory, and in doing so, the offense actually looked effective. Understandably, there is excitement over Murphy’s potential. In fact the college football world is all a twitter over Murphy’s performance. I think these expectations should be tempered. It is not uncommon for a backup quarterback to come into a game and give a team a quick boost, just as it not uncommon for that same quarterback to struggle horribly if forced to play full time after that. This is partly due to the fact that when a backup isn’t expecting to play there is no pressure on his shoulders and the defense isn’t ready because it had no film to study. Tennessee’s defense, which isn’t what we’d call stellar to begin with, practiced a week for Driskel’s tendencies and had no clue about Murphy. Nobody did. Hence, the problem.
What happens now that Murphy realizes that he is the key to success for a championship caliber team? What happens when opposing defenses can study film and exploit his tendencies? What happens when Tyler faces a stout, well-prepared defense? For that we will just have to wait and see. Against the Vols there were a couple of fumbles, one when Jonnothan Harrison snapped on first sound and Murphy was looking away, the other on a fumbled exchange. Those things happen with a new quarterback but for the most part, Tyler seemed in control and poised. He made quick and correct decisions and made plays with both his legs and arm. The only real question is whether he can continue to play that well.
Actually, that is not completely true. Another question is how long a leash will the coaches have on Murphy? Running the ball was a big part of Tyler’s success, something he did well and somewhat often. Will the staff allow him to keep doing it? What happens if he gets hurt? Most people were surprised to find that the Gators had a single viable backup to Driskel. Is it possible that there is another one if Murphy goes down? Probably not. I believe that Murphy running the ball must be part of the game plan if the Gators are going to contend for the SEC in 2013 even if it is risky. He did use his head and slide to avoid contact two or three times. It’s a risk when he runs but he must be allowed to use his best assets.You would think that the passing playbook will be scaled back for such an inexperienced quarterback at least until he’s proven he can handle a full package on the field. It will be a huge disservice for this young man to get his chance (beyond all odds) and then handcuff him to the point where failure is all but inevitable.
For once, the schedule works in Florida’s favor. Playing Kentucky this week gives Murphy the chance to get his first start on the road against a team that can’t match Florida’s athletes. Then there is a slight step up in competition against Arkansas but it is in the friendly confines of The Swamp. That is eight quarters of football before the young QB faces a very good LSU team on the road. That turns out to be fortuitous scheduling.
There is no way to ignore the fact that the Florida offense has been dysfunctional for some time now. While I certainly believe Florida’s offensive problems are much more than Driskel, the bottom line is that Murphy does not need to be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady for the offense to be more effective. However, it is imperative that others step up around him. The offensive line must protect better and be more consistent in the running game. An explosive running back is not an absolute necessity but it sure would be nice. It would take a lot of pressure off of Murphy if once or twice a game a running back would actually break one for 30 or 40 yards but I haven’t seen that kind of explosiveness out of either Mack Brown or Matt Jones. For now, we’ll have to settle for moving the chains.
I still do not believe that Solomon Patton, Trey Burton and Quinton Dunbar are enough at the receiver position. They all played admirably against Tennessee but, other than the Patton screen play for the touchdown, there just are not enough big passing plays and those are harder the more we get into the SEC schedule. Hopefully Demarcus Robinson will put it all together and contribute as the season progresses. What ever happened to Kent Taylor? He was supposed to be a pass catching tight end. Is there not a way to incorporate him into this offense? This staff desperately needs to find or develop a couple of true playmakers in the passing game. It is a bit unrealistic to think that the defense will save the day every week.
Speaking of the Gator defense, it has shown that when it is at full strength it is one of the best in all of college football. Replacing Dominique Easley will be difficult, but the strength of the team is the defense and Muschamp’s scheming. I have no doubt he will find a way to compensate for Easley’s loss. As for the offense, it doesn’t have to be another Oregon for the Gators to win. To be effective it has to minimize mistakes and be more efficient in the red zone. A couple of time consuming sustained scoring drives per half should be enough to win most if not all of the remaining games .It will be interesting to see if Murphy is up to the task of keeping the offense flowing. If he is, this could still be a special season for the Florida Gators even though what most believed to be the worst case scenario has become reality.
On a side note, I have pointed out how dominating the defense can be when at full strength. I do not like having our starting cornerbacks returning kicks. I just needed to get that off my chest. Thank you.