A few of the unknown members of the Our Two Bits tribe and I were in Chicago a few weeks ago for a guys’ weekend trip to take in a Cubs-Braves game at Wrigley Field on Friday and the Notre Dame-Michigan State game in South Bend on Saturday. Since the television scheduling overlords were against us and made the Florida-Tennessee game the same time as MSU-ND, our dilemma was whether or not we could make it through the Notre Dame trip and back to Chicago without finding out anything about the Gators. We made a pact not to check Twitter or texts and to never look at the Notre Dame scoreboard during breaks to avoid the score updates. But in today’s world, this is a virtually impossible task to accomplish. I was taking pics with my phone and somehow ended up opening the Twitter app and seeing a quick mention of Jeff Driskel getting hurt. One other guy saw a text preview that mentioned the same thing. We didn’t tell the other two guys and kept the info to ourselves, eventually making it back to the Chicago apartment we rented for the weekend and the awaiting Gators-Vols clash on the DVR.
The tension mounted after Kyle Christy’s punt was blocked. Then came the pick-six, the throw and hit that ended Driskel’s season. Even though I knew it was coming, I was sickened watching it unfold. The guys that didn’t have the advanced warning were catatonic. All we had heard this offseason and into the Fall was that Driskel couldn’t get hurt and how there was absolutely no one behind him. Then in walked Tyler Murphy. And frankly, it was love at first sight.
Granted the rest of that first half against Tennessee was still mostly a royal debacle. In fact, if the footage from that first half was shown on a loop at secret CIA black sites, it would replace waterboarding as the torture device of choice. But even in the midst of the wreckage, Murphy was beginning to shine. His first pass attempt was a dart to Quenton Dunbar on a third down play in which the pocket collapsed instantaneously, forcing him to scramble. He stayed calm, kept his eyes downfield and with a Vol defender in his face, found Dunbar for the first down (see the Tennessee recap clip below and go to the 3:00 mark). The very next third down, Murphy shook off what looked like a sure sack and scrambled for the first down. By the end of the first half, we were in a frenzy about the kind of potential Murphy showed and what could be in store the rest of the season. The rest of the game featured just enough Murphy magic to keep us giddy. WARNING: This could have also been the side effects of having to sit through an entire 60 minutes of Notre Dame and Michigan State attempting to play offense earlier that day.
Of course after Tennessee and leading into Kentucky, we found out Driskel was lost for the season. At that point, the prevailing message included things like: it was just one game, they simplified the offense for Murphy and Tennessee’s defense is terrible. And yet against my instincts, I couldn’t contain myself about Murphy. I thought the kid showed so much more than I had ever seen out of either John Brantley or Driskel. I couldn’t figure out why the coaches had never seen his potential in practice. I thought about the beautiful twist of getting to root for another Murphy wearing #3 (I grew up a Braves fan in the 80s so Dale Murphy is my all-time favorite athlete).
When Dominique Easley was lost for the season in practice that week, realistic expectations for the rest of the season dropped from SEC Championship and BCS bowl to just making a bowl game. But I still couldn’t shake the sense that we had something special in Murphy. For the first time since 2009, I was excited to see our offense. And when they hit the field at Kentucky, I went from hopeful to certain in my analysis of Murphy. First start. On the road. First possession starts at our own 9-yard line. The situation screamed for nerves. Instead, Murphy faced a third down from his own 10 and calmly stayed in the pocket, checked through at least three progressions and found Trey Burton for a huge first down (see the Kentucky recap video below at the 00:19 mark). Later in the first half, his touchdown throw to Burton was a thing of beauty. He came off the primary receiver to find Burton in the back of the end zone, placing the ball up high where only Burton could go get it (4:25 mark of the Kentucky recap).
Murphy would go on to complete his first 13 throws on the night, a streak that finally ended on the only terrible pass I’ve seen him make so far this year, an interception that normally would have gone the other way for six. But even though he lost the battle on the play, he wouldn’t lose the war, sprinting back and making the touchdown-saving tackle. The Gators put most of the second half on cruise control and coasted to the easy win. After that game, Murphy’s legend was growing but there was still hesitation. Again, Kentucky isn’t a good football team. Was Murphy more of a game manager? How much were Solomon Patton’s big plays altering our perceptions? How would he handle tougher defenses and adversity? And yet again, I was having none of it. I saw a star in the making.
Against Arkansas, Murphy continued to show a calm demeanor and poise. Just like the Kentucky game, the Gators again faced a third down deep in their own end on the very first possession. And again, Murphy made the play and converted the third down. And that play was the final straw for me. The pocket collapsed on Murphy at the 1-yard line and a defender bumped him and grabbed him. The unflappable redshirt junior bounced outside away from pressure. I’m going to guess 80 percent of quarterbacks in college would have run out of bounds and lived to fight another day. Not Murphy. He kept his eyes downfield, squared his shoulders to the line of scrimmage and delivered a perfect touch pass up the sideline to Trey Burton for the first down (00:14 mark of the Arkansas recap below). Nothing he did the rest of the night was as impressive for me – and this was a night where he threw for 240 yards and 3 scores with a passer rating of 209.4, the highest for a Gators QB against an SEC opponent since Rex Grossman in 2001.
Quarterbacks with two starts under their belts just aren’t supposed to be this polished. Murphy sees the whole field. He checks through progressions. He doesn’t just have poise in the pocket, he is actually better and more dangerous when facing pressure. He throws a pretty, catchable ball, switching up fastballs and change ups as the play and coverage dictate. He can make every throw from the perfect deep fade (10:00 mark of the Tennessee recap) to excellent crossing route throws (2:25 mark in the Arkansas recap) to even placing the ball to the outside of the receiver on curl routes so that after the catch, the receiver is in a position to make a play (6:00 mark in the Arkansas recap).
The other dimension that Murphy brings to the offense is his running ability. He is a dynamic threat in the read option. Murphy really sells the fake, is so quick past the line of scrimmage and reads his blocks very well (00:45 mark of the Kentucky recap). He can cut on a dime (14:26 mark of the Tennessee recap is a draw, not read option but you get the gist). His acceleration through the secondary allows five-yard gains to become 15-yard gains (11:10 mark of the Tennessee recap). And although he doesn’t scramble much because he is so poised in the pocket and is always looking downfield to make a big play in the passing game, he has the ability to turn good coverage into huge plays with his feet (12:19 mark of the Tennessee recap).
I wanted to write this column after the Tennessee game. But I figured I’d wait. I wanted to praise him after Kentucky. But I tempered my enthusiasm. Now after three games, two starts and a total QBR of 96.5 which would place him third in the country just ahead of Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Jameison Winston in the top 10, the time has come.
I realize this is the eve of a game that may very well be too big for even his talents. I know that I risk looking foolish if he can’t rise to the occasion on Saturday. I am usually the resident pessimist here at Our Two Bits. And I am deeply superstitious and know that I’m risking jinxing him with the column. But I just can’t contain myself anymore. I love watching Tyler Murphy. He has talent and ability that is truly special. His maturity, as evidenced by his actions before he ever reached the field in sticking it out in Gainesville despite seemingly no chance at ever playing, is off the charts. So I can’t stop myself anymore. I want the world to know it. Tyler Murphy is the real deal and has a chance to be another in the long line of great quarterbacks at the University of Florida.
Prove me right Tyler.
(Special h/t to Libgator and his epic game recap cutdowns on YouTube. You gotta bookmark that page.)