When the lights were brightest in a night game inside The Swamp, Tyler Murphy — at least statistically — was at his best. His 16-22, 240 yards and three touchdowns all represented career highs for the small sample size he’s been under center for the Florida Gators in his career.
For the first time in his three games on the big stage, it seemed that Murphy’s mechanics weren’t always first rate. On a few occasions he wasn’t finishing through throws and rotating his hips enough for a complete follow through, in a sense, stopping short of full body rotation.
“There’s a lot of things I need to do to get better,” Murphy said. “The few throws I missed, especially the third down play to Matt Jones, that’s unacceptable. I was kinda aiming instead of throwing. I’ve gotta get back and watch the film.”
The most pronounced fundamental mishap was on a 16-yard completion to receiver Quinton Dunbar. Murphy mentioned aiming, and that’s what he did on this particular play. He didn’t finish through the throw and the ball sailed a bit high on its trajectory to Dunbar. The lanky receiver fell to the ground after leaping for the ball, so there was no opportunity for yards after the catch even though Dunbar was wide open. Murphy had time in the pocket as well so it wasn’t like he made a high throw under duress.
Murphy also had the kind of brain freeze that gets a lot of quarterbacks in trouble. While being wrapped up by Arkansas defensive linemen Trey Flowers and Demarcus Hodge, Murphy attempted to flip the ball to anyone in the general vicinity. The play was blown dead and nobody friend or foe was near enough to catch the weak attempt. It was the kind of thing you don’t expect from a fourth-year junior. Nothing bad happened this time, but if he tries that again, it could create a very poor situation for the Gators.
Of course it wasn’t all bad tonight from Murphy, who shows an elusive nature in the pocket, sidestepping threats when pass protection breaks down as well as keeping his eyes downfield when moving out of the pocket. He did that tonight, early and often.
One of Murphy’s best throws was actually an incompletion, a drop down field by Trey Burton. Murphy had a tight window to fit the ball into — over a linebacker and in between a converging triangle of three Razorback defenders. He got the ball to the right spot but it was just too tall for Burton, who put fingertips and nothing else on the ball. That was chance Murphy took on this evening that he wouldn’t have two weeks ago. It’s the kind of throw that’s made by a quarterback who is calm under pressure and it shows off the continued development of his confidence. One of the three times he did find Burton tonight was when he threw a pass from the hashmarks on opposite side of the field, dropping it into Burton’s lap as the receiver slid out of bounds. That’s an impressive, accurate throw.
The best thing Murphy did besides not turning the ball over was connecting with receivers sitting open in zone coverage and letting them do all the work. Both touchdown throws to Solomon Patton — plays that covered 51 and 38 yards — were on curl routes where Murphy put the ball on the numbers. In this offense, Murphy is a distributor. He doesn’t have to be a playmaker, just a game manager, and in his coach’s opinion that isn’t a bad thing.
“Murphy did a fantastic job in the game of managing our team,” Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. “I’ve been criticized a bit for saying Murphy manages the team, but that’s the greatest compliment you can give a quarterback. Tom Brady is a great game manager.”
The Murphy to Brady comparison may have been bold praise, but for a player who just started his second collegiate football game and was playing in just his third, tonight was another step in the right direction.
Murphy game grade: B+