Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) has not been ruled out to start Saturday’s game against the Georgia Southern Eagles, but the Florida Gators are being cautious and preparing as if redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg will line up behind center following the opening kickoff.
Murphy spent Monday’s normally light practice “absorbing the game plan, jogging around,” according to offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who refused to say that Mornhinweg had already been named the starter.
Instead, Pease is preparing a game plan that either player will be able to manage, a quite obvious decision considering Mornhinweg did not have that much on his plate during Saturday’s 19-14 loss to South Carolina.
When he was on the field, Mornhinweg handed it off most of the time. It was not until late in the contest when he was forced to throw the ball – due to the score and time remaining on the lock – and ultimately threw a game-ending interception.
But Pease said Tuesday that Gators’ game plan had less to do with Mornhinweg’s inexperience than it did UF’s offensive line and the presence of Gamecocks defensive end Jadaveon Clowney.
“Understand that last week was really based around No. 7 on their team, too. That guy’s the best player in the nation. He can change the game, cause a fumble, pick the ball up and run. Going in, our plan was really designed to make sure that we were going to do things that he couldn’t change the momentum of the game,” he explained.
With South Carolina in the back window and Georgia Southern standing as Florida’s next task at hand, Pease plans to open things up for Mornhinweg, if he is indeed the one who starts Saturday.
“We need to expect more of Skyler now. I think he can handle it. I’ve got confidence in him that he can. It’s a little bit different situation. He has to be able to do that,” he said.
Head coach Will Muschamp related a similar sentiment on Monday.
“I think that he can handle more. I think that a lot of our plan was based on their front … [our offensive line] being able to protect, first start, a lot of those situations. When you move past that now, we need to do more,” he said. “I thought he handled the situation very well. We need to give him more, which we will. I thought he executed what we asked him to do.”
Muschamp added: “I’ve got confidence in Skyler to go out and execute our offense very well. He did it in spring last year, did in camp when we had opportunities. It’s just hard for a guy that’s being third string to get a bunch of reps, so you don’t really have a database of knowledge to say this guy can do these things. … But I got confidence in him as far as executing what we call and putting him in situations where he can be successful.”
Part of that comfort comes with the improved play of the offensive line, which Pease also praised on Tuesday.
Even though Pease called Mornhinweg “adequate” and noted that he needed to improve both his arm strength and leadership skills, he thinks he has what it takes to be a quarterback from a mental standpoint.
“He’s a young kid. He’s eager. He understands preparation. His dad’s a coach. His approach was good. He took all the reps, so every day he knew that he was trying to build off of that,” he explained or Mornhinweg working through last week. “I think he started to get a feel because he said, ‘Coach, what else do I need to look at? What else do I need to look at?’ So, we kind of designed what he should be studying on film.
“He’s pretty laid back. I still think when you’re a freshman, you have a sense that it’s hard to step out of your shell a little bit and be vocal with guys, especially bigger guys and older guys. But sometimes in a quarterback position, you need to do that and really take charge. I don’t know if he is totally there yet because he’s young.”
With confidence from his coaches in his back pocket, Mornhinweg can also rely on his teammates having his back. Redshirt junior offensive lineman Max Garcia praised Mornhinweg for playing well in his first start on Saturday.
“I’m really proud of him. I thought he did a great job. It was his first college snap. He went out there and made some good checks, some good reads,” he said. “Obviously, he made that one mistake with the pick, but he got back out there and didn’t hang his head. We still had time left and tried to go out there and win the game. Really impressed by what he did, just being his first game at South Carolina. It’s a huge, huge situation to face.”
Whether Mornhinweg will get another opportunity to start remains up in the air, at least according to the coaching staff. But with Florida hoping to pull off an enormous upset against Florida State in two weeks, saving Murphy and trying to get him as healthy as possible would not be the worst decision UF could make.
In that case, Mornhinweg will be tasked with helping the Gators avoid falling deeper into despair by falling to an FCS opponent and extending their losing streak to six games.