Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The start of the 2013 season brought an
abundance of hope for the Florida Gators, as they were fresh off a Sugar Bowl
bid and eager to make a run at their first SEC Eastern Division crown since
However, after a disappointing loss to Miami and a couple of devastating
season-ending injuries, it may be time to hit the panic button in Gainesville.
The Gators already have the worst scoring offense in the SEC, putting up just
23.7 ppg, and their prospects for improving certainly took a hit when news
came down following last Saturday's win over Tennessee that quarterback Jeff
Driskel would miss the rest of the season with a broken fibula. Driskel won
the starting job last year as a sophomore and has won 12 of his 15 career
starts, and he showed improvement in completion percentage from 2012 (.637) to
2013 (.689), albeit a significantly smaller sampling this time around.
"Very disappointed for Jeff," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. "That's
part of the game, but it's very difficult to deal with. I'm really hurt for
him and his family and for us as a football team."
If the early part of Florida's week wasn't bad enough, the news got even worse
following Tuesday's practice when Preseason First Team-All SEC Defensive
Tackle Dominique Easley went down with a torn ACL in his right knee. The
senior, who has 18.0 TFL and 5.5 sacks in his career, is less than two years
removed from suffering the same injury in his left knee in late 2011. Easley
recovered from that setback to draw rave reviews for his play here early in
the 2013 campaign and was pegged by some to be a top-10 pick in next year's
NFL Draft, which makes this unfortunate turn of events especially
The squad's injury woes started during the preseason when it lost right tackle
Chaz Green (18 career starts) as well as wide receiver/kick returner Andre
Debose (2,254 career all-purpose yards, eight TDs). Add to the lengthy injury
report for this week's contest against Kentucky cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy
and Marcus Roberson, receivers Demarcus Robinson and Latroy Pittman, offensive
tackle Tyler Moore and defensive tackle Leon Orr, and the Gators can't seem to
catch a break.
It will be an uphill battle for Florida from this point forward, there's no
doubt about that. It has one of the nation's most difficult slate of games
ahead, with matchups against nationally-ranked LSU, Georgia, South Carolina
and Florida State occupying the back-half of its treacherous schedule, but
let's not eulogize the Gators just yet. They are, after all, 1-0 in the SEC --
technically still in control of their own destiny in the SEC East if they can
find a way to knock off Georgia and South Carolina -- and they have a couple
of winnable games coming up (Saturday at Kentucky, Oct. 5 versus Arkansas) for
its new quarterback to get his feet wet.
It's expected that Tyler Murphy will be UF's new starting signal called in a
changing of the guard that could ultimately prove to be a much-needed shake-up
what has been a stagnant offense. Even though Driskel showed better accuracy,
he was hardly outstanding, throwing more interceptions (three) than touchdowns
(two). He was also, surprisingly, a non-factor scrambling out of the pocket.
After rushing for 413 yards and four scores in 2012, Driskel was averaging
just 12.7 rushing yards per contest before suffering the injury.
Murphy, a junior, never saw game action prior to his relief duty last weekend,
and against an improved Tennessee defense he was able to lead the team to
victory by completing 8-of-14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown, while
rushing for 84 yards and a score.
Luckily for Muschamp and his staff, Murphy possesses a similar skill set as
Driskel, so there shouldn't be much of a learning curve for the offense, and
despite his team's recent string of bad luck, the coach is optimistic about
the future with Murphy running the show.
"He's really taken a step forward," Muschamp said. "We thought he had a solid
spring and obviously had a great summer, but you know, when you get thrust
into the spotlight at the beginning of training camp, and how he responded in
that time the confidence began to grow with us as far as him handling the job.
He's improved tremendously as a passer, taking the ball to the right spots.
He's always been a very intelligent guy, a really good athlete. We will not
change much of who we are offensively."
"Knowing Tyler, he won't approach it any differently from the standpoint of
being the starter," he continued. "He may have a couple more butterflies here
and there as far as starting the game, but other than that, he's a pretty
calm, cool, collected guy as you saw on Saturday. He'll handle it like a
As for the defense, there's simply no replacing a guy like Easley -- a 6-
foot-2, 280-pounder who is equally strong at stuffing the run as he is at
creating pressure on the quarterback. Luckily, the defense seems much more
equipped to handle its loss than the struggling offense, as the unit ranks
second in the nation in yielding just 212.3 ypg. Without Easley, expect Dante
Fowler, Jr. (4.0 TFL, sack, two FF), Ronald Powell (4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, four
QB hurries), Antonio Morrison (13 tackles) and Orr (2.0 TFL, sack) to step up
in the front seven, while Vernon Hargreaves (two INTs), Brian Poole, Marcus
Maye and Purifoy continue to wreak havoc in the secondary.
Whether or not Florida can overcome these injuries to remain a viable threat
in the SEC remains to be seen, but Muschamp won't waste any time feeling sorry
for himself, knowing that great teams have the ability to climb even the most
"That's part of the deal -- man down, man up -- and our guys understand that,"
the head coach said. "They understand that when their number is called they
have to prepare themselves the right way and I think we've gotten that for the
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