The doubt – whatever you might have still been harboring – should be erased now. If you were still questioning whether Tyler Murphy belongs as a starting quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, then forget it. Tyler Murphy can play. Tyler Murphy belongs.
After his way cool, slicker than WD-40 performance to lead Florida (4-1, 3-0 SEC East) to a 30-10 win over Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 SEC West) Saturday night you can safely say that this is Murphy’s team now. He is the leader. He is the playmaker. He is the straw that stirs Florida’s drink.
This was a far better indication of what Murphy can do than either the Tennessee or Kentucky games. Against Tennessee, there was absolutely no pressure even though he had never thrown a pass in a real game in three previous years at Florida, spent mostly guiding the scout team Tuesday through Thursday while carrying a clipboard on Saturday. Given his background, anything positive he did in that game would have been a plus. That he far exceeded expectations can be written off as nothing to lose under the circumstances.
Just like everybody’s got a cousin in Miami, everybody plays well against Kentucky, so even though Murphy was razor sharp, hitting his first 13 passes in Lexington, it’s not like he was picking apart a real defense. It was Kentucky, which hasn’t beaten the Gators since Ronald Reagan was halfway through his second term in office.
Arkansas is a far better measuring stick. The Razorbacks aren’t a top tier team and before the season is over, they might be experiencing life among the Southeastern Conference catfish who swim on the bottom of the standings. But the Razorbacks do have some talent on both sides of the ball, enough that they’re capable of beating some people.
In the first quarter Saturday night, the Razorbacks flat out scared the bejabbers out of the Gators and Murphy wasn’t exactly doing his part to alleviate anxiety that hung over The Swamp like a morning fog that hangs for hours over Payne’s Prairie. On Florida’s first possession, he missed Trey Burton on a deep crossing pass that should have gone for big yards. It was the kind of throw that you might not get a second time in a game against a decent defense.
Murphy got a second chance when Loucheiz Purifoy nearly gave Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen an out of body experience when he came off the edge on a corner blitz that flattened Allen and left him looking at the world through his helmet earhole. The ball squirted harmlessly to the carpet where Michael Taylor scooped it up but when the Florida offense took the field Murphy misfired again and the throw was too high, a sign of nerves. Again, it was Burton, running free like a banshee in the Arkansas secondary. You have to make those throws because on the next play the Razorbacks got plenty of pressure off the edge and Murphy was lucky to get off an incomplete pass. When Austin Hardin’s 48-yard field goal was blocked the groan in The Swamp could be heard all the way to the Alachua County line.
You have to wonder what was going on in Murphy’s mind when Arkansas followed that up by torching the Florida defense for a 55-yard touchdown drive that included a 31-yard Allen to Hunter Henry hookup that looked like something done in skeleton drills. There wasn’t a Florida defender within 10 yards of Hunter when he made the catch that set up Jonathan Williams’ four-yard touchdown run.
It can be debated what happened next. Was the Arkansas touchdown the wakeup call for the entire Florida team or was it Murphy grabbing his teammates by the ankles and dragging them kicking and screaming into a real SEC dogfight?
Judging by what happened the rest of the game, the best answer is probably Murphy. For the remaining 47:09 of the game, Murphy picked his teammates up and led them. That’s what good quarterbacks do. That’s what maximum supreme leaders do.
Doesn’t that sound a bit strange — Tyler Murphy: maximum supreme leader? It does when you consider that three weeks ago everyone was praying that Jeff Driskel could stay healthy enough to play out the season because, God forbid, if he went down Tyler Murphy would have to play quarterback.
Well, Murphy is the quarterback now. And he is the leader now and if you have any questions, just ask the Razorbacks, who he turned into his personal whipping boy. He got the Gators a field goal on a drive that should have and would have gotten a touchdown except for a drive-killer by putting Burton in the game as the wildcat quarterback. Memo to staff: this is year four. Everybody knows what Trey is going to do out of the wildcat.
The Murphy Moment, as we might look back and call it someday, happened with 1:42 left in the first half with the Gators leading, 10-7, thanks to a Purifoy pick six. Will Muschamp’s conservative DNA must have gotten scrambled because instead of killing the clock and going into the halftime locker with a three-point lead, he turned Murphy loose. All Murphy did was kill the doubts once and for all.
He scrambled for 15 yards only to get sacked for a seven-yard loss on the next play. Muschamp called time out immediately with the clock showing 52 seconds left in the half. Was there any doubt that the Gators were running the clock out when Mack Brown got sent into the middle of the line after play cranked up again?
When Murphy dropped back to pass, the Razorbacks got pressure up the middle, forcing Murphy to move in the pocket. He didn’t have time to set his feet when he threw a laser beam to Solomon Patton who settled down in the middle of the Arkansas zone about 12 yards downfield. Patton simply spun and turned on the jets to complete a 51-yard scoring play that let the Gators go into the locker with a 17-7 lead.
That play taught us two things: (1) Murphy doesn’t panic under pocket pressure and is always looking for a receiver when he breaks pocket containment and (2) Muschamp already knew what kind of quarterback he had, otherwise he wouldn’t have given Murphy a chance to make a play in the final minute of the game.
There would be another touchdown pass to Patton, this one for 38 yards in the third quarter, and there was that final scoring drive in the fourth quarter when Murphy and Burton connected for a 22-yard gain on a drive that ended with the third touchdown pass, a shovel flick to Valdez Showers for nine yards with 4:47 to go. The final numbers were impressive: 16-22 for 240 yards and three touchdowns. How long as it been since a Florida quarterback threw for three touchdowns in a game against a Division I opponent? Tebow’s swan song in the 2009 Sugar Bowl?
What we saw Saturday night was the football equivalent of a Bar Mitzvah. On this night, Tyler Murphy not only became a man, he became THE man. This is his team now and wherever he leads the Gators will go.
He is an SEC-caliber quarterback with all the skills it takes to play at the level that is demanded by college football’s toughest conference. He can throw. He can run. He can make decisions. He won’t wilt under pressure.
Do you still doubt? You shouldn’t.