Posted: 3:20 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
Three weeks ago, Jeff Driskel went down and out for the 2013 season, and Tyler Murphy stepped in to serve notice about his talents. In August, "Control," a track that didn't make Big Sean's Hall of Fame album, hit the Internet, and Kendrick Lamar's verse set the rap-loving portion of the world on fire.
The most important portion:
I got love for you all but I'm tryna murder you...
Trying to make sure your core fans never heard of you...
They don't wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you...
And what has Tyler Murphy done so far but drop the equivalent of the "Control" verse on Gator Nation?
Driskel was the fan base's quarterback by fiat, not acclamation, entering this year. I wrote about him "fighting ghosts" in discussing Florida's depth at quarterback this year, and it seems clearer than ever now that Driskel stood in the shadows of giants before him — Tim Tebow, Rex Grossman, Danny Wuerffel — and never really escaped them.
Murphy, though, has escaped Driskel's less spacious shadow, and rallied his team and Florida's fans behind him. And while Driskel partisans, and Driskel himself, could counter — as Drake did to Kendrick — that he's after "lasting power," not a momentary frenzy, Murphy's rapidly putting together a body of work that suggests he might yet have it.
And he's done it with control and consistency, not the spotty play that Driskel dazzled and maddened with.
With Murphy at quarterback. the Gators have converted their first third downs in each of his three appearances; they've converted on every one of their red zone trips since he took the helm. Florida converted 10 of 18 third downs against Tennessee, and eight of 13 against Kentucky — when the Gators mustered just five of 13 against Arkansas, it felt like a significant dropoff from a standard that had been set. And so did Florida's "mere" 30 points, helped by a pick-six: Murphy's offense has been more effective and efficient than that.
This feels to many like a huge step up from Driskel's Saturdays, but I suspect the objective truth is probably less sensational: Murphy has been very good, and aided by improvement all over on offense from the Gators' run-heavy 2012 unit. Florida's wide receivers are constantly open now, and Florida has many different options in the running game to turn to, rather than riding Mike Gillislee until his wheels fall off. And the Florida defense that made riding Gillislee a successful strategy in 2012 may have just been a prelude to the 2013 version that has been better than its predecessor so far, stifling both running and passing games.
The key to Murphy swaying Gator Nation, then, is that control. He has looked like a calmer, more effective quarterback, which amplifies the effect of him being a more effective quarterback. He's played three teams that Florida should have comfortably beaten and piloted Florida to comfortable wins. He's done the minimum necessary to avoid hurting Florida's chances of winning by taking care of the ball, and done more than a few things to help the Gators, too.
This weekend is different. LSU is different. LSU is better. And if Murphy wants the lasting power of a season's worth of stellar Saturdays, he's going to have to help Florida control a game against the most potent offense it has seen this year by facilitating drives that keep Zach Mettenberger off the field, and/or getting points to match that offense's scoring.
I think he can do it, that he has that capability. I hope he does do it. But I fear he won't do it, just this once — because this is his first Big Game, because LSU's defense has more talent than any one he's seen thus far, because Death Valley is Death Valley.
I would like my fears to be proven wrong. I would very, very much like that.
And Go Gators.