GAINESVILLE -- The No. 18 Gators toppled Arkansas by 20 points (30-10) Saturday night in The Swamp despite several special teams snafus and zero semblance of a competent rushing attack.
Normally, the absence of Will Muschamp’s patented ground-and-pound offense is recipe for disaster, but perhaps, not anymore.
UF’s redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy fueled Florida to victory with a career-day, throwing for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
While tailbacks Matt Jones (17 carries for 50 yards) and Mack Brown (11 carries for 39 yards) struggled finding running room, Murphy — making his first-career start at home — continued to progress from green career-backup to gold injury replacement for Jeff Driskel, who broke his fibula against Tennessee on Sept. 21.
“They did good job containing our run,” Murphy said. “But I’m getting a lot more comfortable. … The game is definitely slowing down. Our coaches did a good job getting us in the right plays.”
With a steady blend of elusiveness, awareness and accuracy, Murphy orchestrated a fluid aerial attack that produced passing plays of 51, 38, 19, 19 and 22 yards.
The combination of a consistent quarterback (Murphy, possibly) and a dynamic playmaker (the slippery speedster Solomon Patton, definitely) is a combination Florida hasn’t produced in a while. The Gators’ highly-touted running game has been hit-or-miss early this season, but the emergence of such an unlikely duo has potentially changed the fortunes and future of Florida’s offense.
“I’ve been criticized a little bit for calling Tyler a ‘manager.’ That’s the greatest compliment you can give a quarterback,” coach Will Muschamp said. “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 protections, taking the ball to the right spot, taking care of the football, scoring points, moving your team, your team having confidence in you. That’s one of the greatest compliments you can have as a quarterback is a game manager. A guy that does what he’s supposed to do. I don’t know where that became a bad word in the coaching profession.”
Murphy “managed” to win another conference game — billed as a physical slobberknocker — with his arm and legs.
“That’s a talent to have the awareness to know when to step up and make a couple really nice throws,” Muschamp said. “When he starts moving and scrambling, defensively it’s hard. You can’t account for that. That’s something he does really well.”
Games against SEC doormats Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas allowed Murphy — and the team — to build confidence moving forward, but UF’s redshirt junior understands the daunting challenges (at LSU, vs. Georgia, at South Carolina, vs. FSU) that lie ahead.
“I feel ready,” he said. “I’m a lot more ready than I was three weeks ago. Playing at LSU [Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS] is not going to be easy.”
Junior starting cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) missed his third consecutive game Saturday. Roberson again participated in warmups but was held out.
“He should be good for next week,” Muschamp said.