Monday, September 23, 2013

Looking Back to '03: Predicting the Success of Tyler Murphy

When Jeff Driskel was knocked out of the game due to injury with 10:05 left in the first quarter against Tennessee I figured the season had gone up in smoke. Sure, the defense and special teams might be overwhelming enough to eek out a win versus the Vols, but beyond that the prospects weren't going to be good. Turns out I was wrong. Not only did Tyler Murphy fill in admirably for the injured Driskel, he also provided hope that this season isn't entirely lost.

To be fair, Murphy didn't look great at first, and without the defense forcing back-to-back turnovers I'm not sure how the game plays out. However, that's exactly what this team was built to do. Play suffocating defense, run the ball, control the clock and not turn it over. When the offense needed extra snaps to calm everything down the defense pulled through. By halftime, Murphy had made the most of those snaps en route to a 17-7 lead for the Gators. At that point I felt like Murphy was running a very Chris Leak-esque offense, and based on how the team has struggled to move the ball at times in recent years, that isn't a bad thing.

Leak certainly wasn't a dual-threat quarterback in the truest sense of the term, but he did fairly well picking up yards on the ground if the play broke down. Murphy rushed for 84 yards versus Tennessee, and while some of that was probably him breaking the pocket too early and taking advantage of a weaker defense, he did have success on designed quarterback run plays. Also, to me his throwing mechanics appear to be similar to Leak's, but I haven't gone through much video to compare the two. However, I was curious as to how Leak fared in his first games as Florida's quarterback, and I was pleasantly surprised with what I found (and had evidently forgotten).

Leak battled Ingle Martin through the first four games of the 2003 season, and received his first career start against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium. Hopefully, Murphy brings home the win like Leak did that day. Leak followed that up with a loss to Ole Miss in a game where he threw three interceptions. Amazingly, he went for 229 yards and two passing touchdowns the next week as the Gators handed LSU, the eventual National Champions, their only loss of the season. Leak ended the regular season 6-2 as the starter, with other notable wins coming against Arkansas and Georgia. So, can Murphy rack up at least 6 wins? It's tough, but I think he'll be able to equal Leak's mark, if only because Florida's defense is so dominant.

The 2003 Florida team finished the season ranked 51st in total defense, and 28th in scoring defense. This year's squad should finish the season ranked in the top 10, if not the top 5, in both of those categories. They will limit the amount of points their opponent scores, and barring turnovers by the offense (certainly not a given from what we've seen), will keep the team close in every game from here on out.

Tyler Murphy isn't a four-star recruit like Leak or Driskel, and his miniscule sample size as a starter came against an inferior opponent. However, there is reason to be optimistic because at first glance he appears to be a great fit for this system. He's a threat to run the ball, and has enough short-range accuracy to deliver passes to the receivers in ways that will allow them to make plays after the catch.

Honestly, this team just needs Murphy to complete 60% of his passes with at least a 2-to-1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions. Similar to what Driskel did last year, and what Leak did on his way to compiling a 35-12 record as a starter. If Murphy is able to do that, then this team should be in a position to win at least six of the remaining nine games and still make a run at Atlanta.

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