Supported by a dominant defense that forced six turnovers on the afternoon, redshirt junior back-up quarterback Tyler Murphy shined as he led the No. 18/19 Florida Gators (2-1, 1-0 SEC) to a 31-17 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers (2-2, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
Replacing junior starting QB Jeff Driskel midway through the first quarter, Murphy finished 8-of-14 for 134 yards and a touchdown and also carried the ball 10 times for 84 yards and another score on the ground.
Driskel, while throwing a pick-six on UF’s second offensive series of the game, broke a bone in his right leg and never returned. He will miss the remainder of the season.
The Gators, which have now won nine-straight games against the Vols dating back to 2005, utilized a superb defensive effort to mitigate the early miscue – along with numerous others throughout the game – and pull off the victory.
Junior punter Kyle Christy muffed a snap on Florida’s first offensive series, and Tennessee subsequently took over at UF’s 15-yard line. UT would not convert the turnover into points, however, because sophomore Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. forced and recovered a fumble on second down to give the ball back to UF.
The Vols’ next offensive series ended the same way with Fowler sacking QB Nathan Peterman and forcing a fumble that was recovered by redshirt junior LB Michael Taylor at the six-yard line. The Gators only came away with three points as redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin made a 23-yard field goal.
Sophomore defensive back Brian Poole registered Florida’s third turnover of the game by picking off Peterman at UF’s 44-yard line. Two plays later, Murphy hit senior wide receiver Solomon Patton on a screen that Patton took 52 yards for a touchdown.
The Gators coughed the ball up again when a snap from the center hit Murphy in the facemask, but Florida’s defense held strong and forced a punt. Unfortunately for UF, the ball was returned right back to UT as sophomore running back Matt Jones fumbled on his own 24-yard line.
A deflected ball thrown by Peterman landed in the hands of Gators junior defensive tackle Darius Cummings three plays later. Cummings appeared to have a clear path to the end zone but was tripped up by a teammate shortly after grabbing the interception. Murphy led Florida on a seven-play, 40-yard touchdown drive that ended with a three-yard rush by redshirt junior RB Mack Brown.
Miraculously leading 17-7 at the half, UF let UT cut its deficit to a single touchdown after a seven-play, 48-yard drive by QB Justin Worley, who replaced Peterman following his abysmal first half. The Gators, however, jumped ahead by 14 on the next series when Murphy led an 11-play, 79-yard drive that included a 31-yard pass to redshirt junior WR Quinton Dunbar and a four-yard scamper score by Jones.
Murphy again shined on Florida’s next possession, registering a 28-yard rush and passes of 12 and 20 yards on the drive. On 3rd-and-6 at Tennessee’s seven-yard line, Murphy kept the ball, shook a defender and ran in for a score that put the home team up 31-10 following the extra point.
On the ensuing possession, the Gators lost Poole for the game due to the NCAA’s new targeting rule. He will also miss the first half of Florida’s contest next week against Kentucky. UF was already without junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) heading into the game and lost junior CB Loucheiz Purifoy (thigh) early in the second half after he got injured on a punt return.
Worley took advantage of the Gators’ health issues in the secondary and completed passes of 32 and 18 yards as part of a seven-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that cut the Vols’ deficit back down to 14 points.
Tennessee would never get closer as Florida registered two more interceptions in the fourth quarter with safeties junior Jabari Gorman and redshirt freshman Marcus Maye both picking off Worley in the final six minutes of the game.
Brown finished with 86 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, while Patton and Dunbar combined for 136 receiving yards on the afternoon. Five different Gators defenders registered turnovers. UF outgained UT 382-220 overall and 215-66 on the ground while possessing the ball for more than 19 minutes longer than the visitors (39:37-20:23).
Florida will hit the road for its second league game and take on Kentucky next Saturday at 7 p.m. in Lexington, KY. The game will air live on ESPNU.
Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press