Snell’s Slant: Murpry’s turn, Florida’s elite defense

A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He has returned to continue sharing his musings through the 2013 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.

It would be a lie to tell you that I knew Tyler Murphy was talent enough to come in and play as well as he did Saturday. It would be a bold-faced lie to say I know anything about him – other than his name – before Jeff Driskel got injured. It is amazing how knowledge and perception can change in a couple of days.

Diving into the dynamics of which quarterback is better or whether this particular back-up can lead the team better than the starter is irrelevant at this point because only one is even healthy enough to be involved in the conversation. However, it is certainly worthwhile to consider that Florida’s offense, which has struggled as of late, found a nice rhythm after Murphy took over behind center.

In retrospect, the best thing that could have happened for the Gators during fall camp was Driskel being sidelined temporarily due to his emergency appendectomy. It gave the coaching staff a chance to give Murphy some valuable reps – and evaluate him with the first team offense – that otherwise never would have happened.

Even though offensive coordinator Brent Pease talks at length about the mental reps that reserves or injured players take during practice, nothing is a substitute for being on the field and going through the motions.

How talented and consistent Murphy can be remains to be seen, though he certainly flashed it against Tennessee. He proved that he’s a gamer, a guy that can step up when called on to take the reins. But managing the team off the bench is not the same as leading the Gators, one of the best programs in the country, through an entire week and for 60 minutes in a game.

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SIX BITS: Demps, Beal, Murphy, Horschel, Easley

1 » Former Florida Gators running back Jeff Demps is active on an NFL regular season roster for the first time in his career as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided to bring him aboard on Monday, the cut-off date established by the league for Demps’s roster exemption. Demps was traded by the New England Patriots to Tampa Bay in April but did not put on a helmet until after the preseason concluded as he spent the entire summer and offseason running track. Now officially a member of the Bucs, Demps will likely handle kick return duties and play sparingly on offense. He has not played a snap of meaningful football since Jan. 2, 2012.

2 » Out of work since being cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason following an arrest (on a charge that was later dropped), RB Chris Rainey has received a couple of workout opportunities over the last few months. His latest was with the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday. According to ProFootballTalk.com, Rainey ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash during the workout, but “the Chiefs have decided that they currently don’t have a spot for him.”

“Ran a 4.29 in the 40 and kill the workout too. Waitin on the Kansas City chiefs to get back at me or Watever team now. God is Good!!!” Rainey tweeted on Monday.

Check out four more Florida Gators news BITS (two videos)…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Demps, Beal, Murphy, Horschel, Easley

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9/23: Muschamp talks injuries, rushers, Kentucky

No. 19/20 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss Saturday’s 31-17 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers and his team’s upcoming road game against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, Sept. 28. The contest will kick off at 7 p.m. and air live on ESPNU.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp announced that junior quarterback Jeff Driskel’s surgery, originally scheduled for Sunday, will instead be performed on Wednesday. Driskel broke his right fibula during Saturday’s game and will have a plate inserted in the leg. “Again, very disappointed for Jeff. It’s part of the game, but it’s very difficult to deal with. Really hurt for him and his family and for us as a football team,” he said.

One other serious injury occurred as redshirt freshman tight end Colin Thompson, who missed all of 2012 due to injury, was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot and will probably miss 1-2 weeks. “I’m disappointed for Colin. He was starting to really progress and do well for us,” Muschamp said. “He’s had some issues with his foot; this is a different issue with his foot. It’s something that has not happened before.”

Three other Gators were injured Saturday but each is expected to be active for Saturday’s game. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Leon Orr hurt his shoulder and will miss practice on Monday but should be back Tuesday or Wednesday. Redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio, who sat out the first two games of the season with a torn pectoral, got poked in the eye early Saturday and had three stitches after the game. “He’s going to be fine for this week. I’ll tell you, a tough young man he is to play through that,” Muschamp said. Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy was also knocked from the game after being hit hard on a kickoff return; he was later diagnosed with a thigh contusion and was back at practice running on Sunday.

As for the three Florida players that missed the Tennessee game, Muschamp believes two will be healthy enough to play at Kentucky. Junior CB Marcus Roberson (knee) ran well Sunday and will be back at practice Tuesday, and redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore (ankle) will also be back in action Tuesday. Redshirt sophomore running back Valdez Showers, who injured his ankle during practice on Wednesday, was listed as “doubtful” and will likely be out at least one if not two weeks.

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Florida Gators release depth chart for Kentucky

Though things could still change over the next five days, the No. 19/20 Florida Gators on Monday afternoon released an updated depth chart ahead of Saturday’s game.

Florida omitted players that are not participating against the Kentucky Wildcats due to injury or suspension; therefore, the depth chart below is an “active” version rather than a “best-case scenario” version.

Changes are noted below and marked with (»).

OFFENSE

QB: 3 Tyler Murphy, 17 Skyler Mornhinweg
» 6 Jeff Driskel (broken right fibula) is out for the season.
RB: 24 Matt Jones, 33 Mack Brown
FB: 43 Hunter Joyer, 25 Gideon Ajagbe
WR (X): 1 Quinton Dunbar, 11 Demarcus Robinson
WR (Z): 83 Solomon Patton, 5 Ahmad Fulwood, 85 Chris Thopmpson
F Position: 8 Trey Burton, 30 Mike McNeely
» 13 Latroy Pittman is back from suspension but not listed at Z or F.
TE: 88 Clay Burton, 87 Tevin Westbrook

LT: 70 D.J. Humphries, 76 Max Garcia
LG: 76 Max Garcia, 63 Trip Thurman
C: 72 Jonotthan Harrison, 64 Kyle Koehne
RG: 67 Jon Halapio, 64 Kyle Koehne, 77 Ian Silberman
RT: 73 Tyler Moore, 74 Trenton Brown

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Florida Gators back-up quarterback Tyler Murphy aced his pop quiz, faces tough tests ahead

Tyler Murphy passed his first test.

Well, it was actually more like a pop quiz.

The redshirt junior quarterback, who had never completed a collegiate pass let alone thrown a touchdown, did both – and much more – on Saturday to lead the Florida Gators back from an early deficit to a 31-17 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers.

Thrust into the game early in the first quarter with a seven-point deficit – created on a pick-six thrown by junior QB Jeff Driskel on Florida’s second offensive series – Murphy got something he likely thought would never come, an opportunity. Driskel broke the fibula in his right leg and had season-ending surgery on Sunday.

“When I saw him go down, I was just hoping he’s OK. He’s a good friend of mine,” Murphy said. “We’ve gone into practice a lot as far as pushing each other to get better. In my head, I was just hoping he was able to get up and keep playing. You never want to see a guy go down. I was just hoping he was healthy, a minor sprain or something, and he could get up and keep playing.”

Until 2013, he was never truly better than the Gators’ third option.

“It was tough sitting on the sidelines. Never fun. Sometimes you kind of have to do things when you come to a big football school like this. It’s always going to bring in the best guys in the country,” Murphy said on Saturday.

“It was tough, you know what I mean, but I was just happy the team was doing well and winning. I was just trying to find a way to contribute whether that was scout team or trying to coach guy sand push guys to get better.”

In 2010, Murphy’s first year, John Brantley was in his first year as a starter but struggled mightily, leading the coaching staff to employ a three-quarterback system, none of the three being Murphy. He redshirted.

He remained out of the mix as the fourth quarterback behind Brantley and a pair of four-star freshmen in Driskel and Jacoby Brissett in 2011 and bumped up one spot to third-string in 2012 when Driskel started and Brissett was the reserve. Suddenly, when Brissett decided to leave after being passed over for the starting job, Florida had no one else to turn to but Murphy to back-up Driskel in 2013.

“It’s been extremely tough for him. You got to give him a lot of credit. He’s been passed up by guys, by young guys and things like that, hasn’t been looked at as being one of the starters for a while – until now,” senior wide receiver Trey Burton said. “It shows what type of guy he is. He understands. He’s willing to sit and wait his turn.”

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Florida receivers trending upward, running game questions, Jeff Driskel’s redshirt eligibility

OnlyGators.com tackles three hot topics coming out of Saturday’s 31-17 victory by the No. 18/19 Florida Gators (2-1, 1-0 SEC) over the Tennessee Volunteers (2-2, 0-1 SEC) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

The Gators have seen wide receivers step up, must deal with a change in running philosophy and have questions to answer about the team’s future at quarterback.

WIDEOUTS BEGINNING TO EMERGE

Heading into the 2013 season, it appeared that Florida’s best chance to significantly improve its passing game would come on the back of two players – just not the two players that have stood out through the first three games. With redshirt senior Andre Debose (torn ACL) out for the season and supposed freshman sensation Demarcus Robinson held catchless in his first two games (he was suspended against Tennessee for a violation of team rules), two veterans have stepped up in a major way.

Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar has amassed 162 yards on 11 catches over the last two contests. He had a career-high 98 yards against Miami on Sept. 7 and added 63 yards – his third-highest collegiate total – on Saturday.

Perhaps even more impressive, senior Solomon Patton has totaled 192 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games. In his previous 32 appearances, Patton only combined for 100 receiving yards and never found the end zone once.

“We challenged him. ‘Do you want to just continue to be a jet sweep guy or do you want to be a major contributor to our football team?’” explained head coach Will Muschamp after Saturday’s game.

“So he worked on route running. He worked on letting us have the confidence to tailor some things after him. … He mastered those throughout spring and then he had a great summer. He came in and had a really good camp. That, to me, as much as anything, he saw an opportunity his senior year in his last go-around at the University of Florida and ‘I’m going to take advantage of my opportunities.’ And he certainly did.”

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9/21: Florida vs. Tennessee post-game report

Six forced turnovers and a surprisingly poised performance by redshirt junior back-up quarterback Tyler Murphy led the No. 18/19 Florida Gators (2-1, 1-0 SEC) past the Tennessee Volunteers (2-2, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL. After topping the visitors 31-17, Florida head coach Will Muschamp met with the media and provided some of his thoughts after the game.

DANNY WUERFFEL AS MR. TWO BITS

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» Florida is extended its winning streak against Tennessee to nine games (2005-13).
» UF also won its ninth-straight SEC opener (eight against UT).
» The Vols fell to 1-24 against top 25 teams since 2008 and have now lost 18-straight games when squaring off against ranked opponents.
» The Gators are 14-0 under Muschamp when rushing for more than 150 yards (6-9 when rushing for fewer than 150 yards). Florida is also 16-3 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points, 12-3 when an opponent rushes for fewer than 100 yards, 7-6 when an opponent scores first and 16-1 when leading at the half.
» UF is 16-2 against unranked opponents under Muschamp.
» UT did not score an offensive touchdown until there was 10:10 left in the game.
» The Gators have now possessed the ball for 38:20 or longer in each of their three games this season. Florida out-possessed Tennessee 39:37-20:23 on Saturday.
» UF has forced at least one turnover in 14-straight games.
» The Gators have forced the most interceptions among SEC teams this century (354).
» Florida’s six turnovers were the most the team has forced in a single game since Aug. 30, 2008 against Hawaii and the most UF has registered against an SEC opponent since doing the same to UT on Sept. 21, 1996.

» Senior wide receiver Solomon Patton registered 100 receiving yards and no receiving touchdowns combined in the first 32 games of his career. Over the last two games, Patton has totaled 192 yards receiving and two touchdowns. He had three receptions for 73 yards, including a career-long 52-yard catch, and a score on Saturday.
» Murphy threw a completion and a touchdown pass for the first time in his college career. He finished 8-of-14 for 134 yards and a score but also picked up 84 yards and a rushing touchdown on 10 carries.
» Redshirt junior running back Mack Brown led Florida in rushing with 86 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
» Five different Gators forced turnovers including sophomore Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr., who created two forced fumbles – the first and second of his career.
» Sophomore defensive back Brian Poole, redshirt freshman safety Marcus Maye and junior defensive tackle Darious Cummings each caught the first interception of their respective careers.

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Defense dominates, Murphy shines as Florida wins ninth-straight over Tennessee 31-17

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.

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