When the Florida Gators lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel for the year against the Tennessee Volunteers, there was some serious questions about the state of the offense going forward. Backup quarterback Tyler Murphy has quickly put those concerns to rest, however, with excellent play through two-plus games as the leader of the huddle. While things have gone very well so far for Murphy and the Gators, is the junior QB ready to lead his team into Death Valley against the LSU Tigers?
Through two starts, Murphy has looked very comfortable under center. He’s completing 72.2 percent of his passes on the season for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception. In the three games that he’s attempted a pass this season, Murphy is averaging 176.7 yards passing, almost 20 yards more than Driskel was in the two games he started and finished. And that’s despite averaging 7.5 fewer throws per game than Driskel was. Throw in Murphy’s ability to make plays with his legs, gaining 135 yards on 24 attempts with two touchdowns, and the argument could be made that Murphy has the offense playing better than before Driskel was hurt.
But those numbers have come against less-than formidable opposition in environments that have been either wildly supportive (in Gainesville) or at best mildly bothersome (at Kentucky). Murphy’s three wins have come against the Tennessee Volunteers (No. 80 in total defense) at home, the Kentucky Wildcats (No. 59) in Lexington and the Arkansas Razorbacks (No. 27) in Gainesville. In all, it’s been a relatively easy transition for him to make as the competition has gradually improved while the environments remained a non-factor.
That will change on Saturday when the Gators head to Baton Rouge. The Tigers have won 28 of their last 29 games at home in front of one of the best home-field advantages in college football. The crowd will be on Murphy and the Gators’ offense from the opening kickoff until the final second ticks off the clock doing everything they can to try and disrupt the communication and decision making of Murphy. It will be a hostile environment like Murphy has never experienced before.
While Florida won’t be relying on Murphy and the passing game exclusively to win this game for them, they will need him to make some plays. The LSU offense has been as high-powered as any that Florida has seen this season so there is bound to be some points scored. If the Tigers get on a roll, especially early, the Gators will need Murphy to step up and make plays to keep the Gators in the game and take the Tigers’ faithful out of it.
It’s a serious challenge for a quarterback that hasn’t been asked to carry his team to victory in an extremely hostile environment before. Does Murphy have what it takes to lead the Gators into Death Valley and emerge still perfect in SEC play?
Join Kris Hughes and Tyler Brett for even more analysis of the LSU/Florida matchup live on the Google + College Football Pregame Rant this Saturday at 8:30 am PST/11:30 EST live online! We’ll be picking two fans — one from each team — to tell us why their team will win and add to a lively discussion on what we see as each team’s keys to victory. Join us!