Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy may have looked cool, calm and collected when he took over for injured junior starter Jeff Driskel on Saturday, but he was nervous deep down inside.
Such is the case when you haven’t played a meaningful down at quarterback in four years and you are not expecting to see the field on a given afternoon. Murphy nevertheless expects that queasy feeling to return on Saturday when he starts the first game of his college career for the No. 19/20 Florida Gators (2-1, 1-0 SEC) against the Kentucky Wildcats (1-2, 0-0 SEC).
“I’ll have butterflies, I’m sure,” he admitted on Monday. “I’ll be anxious to get out there and maybe complete my first pass – or once I get hit – I think I’ll be fine. I don’t think it’ll be bad as it was last week,” he said.
Murphy started thinking about the Kentucky game hours after he led Florida to a 31-17 victory over Tennessee but not because he was salivating at the chance to start but rather so he could fix his mistakes and improve as a player.
“After the game I was kind of anxious to watch the film, see how I did. I was just kind of just thinking about how I would have to adapt to being a starter and stuff like that, taking on a new role. Just ways I could just really excel and be a leader,” Murphy said. “I’m the next guy in line, so I’m just thinking of ways I could help lead this team.”
He spent the whole night thinking about it while returning congratulatory phone calls and text messages of from friends, family and teammates.
“I’m just kind of ready to move on and start focusing on Kentucky,” he said, “getting back to doing what I love to do, which is playing football.”
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease got first crack at the film that Murphy had to wait until Sunday to view. He spoke Tuesday about what he liked about Murphy’s performance on Saturday.
“I thought he did a great job. It’s always a tough situation to come in, in a back-up role, perform I think at the efficiency that he did because you don’t get all the reps in practice with live reps,” Pease said.
“It goes back to even the off week when he was taking a lot of reps. He was the one kid that was really, really noticable. I think he had an intent in practice. He was on a mission. He was going to get better.
“That still carried over to the week of preparation for Tennessee. I think he showed that he was prepared. We talk about that a lot in our room, preparation, it’s probably one of the main keys. We got a lot of quotes on that, and it’s one of Peyton Manning’s big deals. He either bought into it or believed in it, and I think he owned up to it.”
Though he likely respects Manning’s ability, Murphy said Monday that his favorite player is Drew Brees. He likes “the way he leads the guys and guys follow him.” Murphy admitted that he is quieter and not as vocal as Brees but hopes to be the same caliber of leader for the Gators.
“I’m definitely going to try to take some things that he’s done,” he said. “He encourages his guys to do well and stuff like that. I’m definitely going to keep trying to encourage my teammates and push them to excel.”
Both Murphy and Pease mentioned that the player constantly prepared like he was going to be the starter each week anyway, so not much will change in the amount of work he puts in. For that reason, and because Murphy – like Driskel – is a dual-threat signal caller, Pease will operate the offense as usual.
The difference this week is that Murphy will have a full week of preparation heading into the game, taking 75 percent of the reps during practice and the leader of the offense.
“We had two weeks to prepare as a team for Tennessee, so I was able to really get a good grasp on the game plan. Going into this week, it’s going to be a little different, you only get one week. I’m really going to have to pay attention and focus on the little details and try to get everything so I can feel comfortable going into this game,” he said.
Murphy admitted that he was not 100 percent sure he would have been ready for this opportunity had it come before this season. Though he always tried to prepare the same way, practice snaps did not trickle down to him until this offseason after Jacoby Brissett transferred and the second-string job became available.
“The timing lined up,” he said. “I definitely got a lot more reps this year in camp and in spring than I did last year with the QB competition going on. Things definitely lined up for me, and it’s a blessing.”
The only true downside for Murphy is that his opportunity had to come at a high price, Driskel’s health and well-being.
The two have grown close over the last year and Murphy hopes his teammate can be back throwing passes sooner than later.
“It was tough to see him go down. Any time you spend a lot of time with someone in the meeting room, off the field, setting up players’ practices in the summer and stuff like that, it’s just tough because we kind of built a good little relationship,” he said.
“I texted him and told him I wish him the best. Hopefully he can get healthy and get back out as soon as possible. He said, ‘It’s your time now.’ And he was very encouraging. He said he’s just going to help me along the way, give me advice and stuff.”
Now a voice for the team, Murphy was the one questioned about Florida’s 26-game winning streak against Kentucky, the task of extending it something he has suddenly been put in charge of as well.
There may be a lot left to be determined about Murphy, but his indoctrination into the Gators’ no-nonsense game planning approach was likely completed a long time ago. He deflected talk about the streak just as quickly as the subject was broached.
“Coach [Jeff] Dillman just reminds us this is another SEC opponent. If we lose this game, we’ll take a step back from reaching our goal, which is to play in Atlanta,” he said. “Coach [Will] Muschamp is always preaching to us about nameless and faceless opponents.”
“Nameless, faceless” may be the mantra passed around the facility, but you can bet Murphy will always remember the name, location and end result of his first start on the college level just like Pease, nearly 30 years later, was quick to note on Tuesday that he first led Montana against Cal State Fullerton back in 1985 (to a 31-30 victory).
Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press