Florida QB Murphy managing games at high level
By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — No. 17 Florida hasn’t gotten this kind of quarterback play, at least not for three consecutive games, since the Tim Tebow era.
Tyler Murphy, a fourth-year junior who didn’t take a snap his first three seasons, has shown poise and pocket presence. He has been accurate and efficient. He has taken care of the ball, turned negative plays into big gains and helped the Gators overcome a season-ending injury to starter Jeff Driskel.
In three games, Murphy has performed better than Driskel and everyone else who threw passes at Florida since Tebow’s departure in 2010.
And if anyone wants to call Murphy a “game manager,” well, that’s just fine. Murphy and the Gators (4-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) welcome the label. They even consider it a compliment.
“I’ve been criticized a little bit for saying ‘managed,’” coach Will Muschamp said. “That’s the greatest compliment you can give a quarterback. Tom Brady is a great game manager. It’s about converting third downs. It’s about completing passes. It’s about getting your offense in and out of the right runs, the right passes, protections, taking the ball to the right spot, taking care of the football, scoring points, moving your team, your team having in confidence in you.
“That’s one of the greatest compliments you can have as a quarterback — a game manager. I don’t know where that became a bad word in the coaching profession.”
Murphy has completed 72 percent of his passes for 530 yards, with five touchdowns and an interception, in wins against Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas. The Wethersfield, Conn., native also has been sacked just three times.
Murphy ranks third in the SEC in passing efficiency, improving his numbers with every game. Not since Tebow’s final three games has any Florida quarterback been as productive as Murphy over a three-game stretch.
His next start — Saturday at 10th-ranked LSU (5-1, 2-1) — should be more telling than the others. It’s on the road, in front of hostile fans and against a tradition-rich program that puts defensive player after defensive player in the NFL.
Coaches and teammates rave about Murphy’s calm, even-keel demeanor, calling it the key to his three-week success. But how much of an asset will it be against the Tigers?
“We’re going to find out,” offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “I don’t see him getting flustered. He’s demanding of himself. He’s demanding of what he wants from coaches, too. And he’s demanding from his teammates. He’s stepping up to be a leader more every time. I like what he’s doing. I like how he’s approaching everything and still trying to make himself better.
“The biggest thing when you get in a spot like he’s in is to still remain humble.”
Murphy has handled all the attention and praise as well as he has the pressure of being thrown in the starting lineup: He barely flinched.
And he seems to be improving with every snap.
He completed 16 of 22 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns — all career highs — in a 30-10 victory against Arkansas on Saturday night. He escaped several near sacks, showing a knack for feeling pressure and avoiding rushers, and still kept his head up and eyes fixed on receivers.
“When I go back and watch film, sometimes I ask myself how did I get out of that?” Murphy said.
Murphy’s path to Florida has been well documented. He had offers from Connecticut, Syracuse and Temple in 2009 when he decided to send his high school highlights to former Florida coach Urban Meyer. He was invited to visit and then offered a scholarship.
Nothing else was as easy.
Murphy spent three seasons on the sideline, sitting the bench behind John Brantley, Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. Even tight end Jordan Reed and versatile receiver Trey Burton got QB repetitions ahead of him. But Murphy landed in the spotlight thanks to Brissett’s transfer and Driskel’s broken leg.
Murphy has seized his opportunity — even if it’s coming as a “game manager.”
“I don’t take any offense to it,” Murphy said. “Since I’ve been here, Alabama has been one of the top teams. Watching them, I try to copycat A.J. McCarron a little bit. He does a great job managing the game and taking what the defense gives him. His third year being the starter, he’s making a lot of plays and put the team on his back a few times.
“It all starts with being a game manager. I don’t take any offense to that. I just try to get first downs and move the ball.”