Murphy's Litmus Test: LSU
Finally, Florida gets to show if it's for real on the football field.
Many critics, myself included, wrote off the Gators after their loss to Miami and injuries to starting quarterback Jeff Driskel and star defensive tackle Dominique Easley, but then they kept winning.
I never expected the injuries to knock Florida below the likes of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas in the SEC pyramid, so simply winning those games wasn't surprising. However, the play of quarterback Tyler Murphy and the continued dominance of the Gators' defense has been impressive.
The redshirt junior is turning heads around Gators Nation and many fans are complaining that head coach Will Muschamp should have started him sooner. Murphy has been good the last three games, as all the talk about his poise has been warranted. He is not overwhelmed, nor does he look inexperienced.
But it's easy to look good against Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas.
Let's not get too caught up in the Murphy hype until he faces a legitimate SEC competitor like LSU.
Nevertheless, there are signs of hope for Murphy against the Tigers. After playing for two weeks between the chains, Murphy completed 5-of-7 pass attempts of more than 15 yards against Arkansas with nearly all of them to Trey Burton. The deep passes still sail high for Murphy, but he is putting the ball in catchable spots and his deep accuracy has improved every week.
A stat that may be even more impressive is that the Gators are perfect in the red zone with Murphy under center. After three games, Murphy has been better than Driskel at improvising, scrambling, throwing on the run and throwing the ball away than Driskel. Murphy has proven to be a mobile playmaker at quarterback and a monster in the red zone.
The last Gators player to receive compliments like that was named Tim Teb...
No, too soon.
Florida's upcoming clash with LSU isn't all about Murphy, though. Florida's defense will have to shine in order for the Gators to win in Baton Rouge, La.
The Gators defense struggled to stop the run against Arkansas and made Alex Collins look like a Heisman Trophy candidate. LSU is not nearly as one-dimensional as Arkansas, so Florida's run-stuffing on defense won't cut it against Jeremy Hill and company.
Other than their run defense, the Gators haven't experienced much of a drop-off after losing Easley, thanks in large part to the stellar play of their secondary.
Loucheiz Purifoy is living up to all of the Mel Kiper hype and looks like the same playmaker from last season. On the other side of the field, Vernon Hargreaves has locked down opposing receivers, smothered their routes and sapped their will. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger will struggle to produce against Florida's pair of starting corners on Saturday.
LSU will serve as a benchmark for these new-look Gators, who will see if their new leaders can take them to an SEC championship. If the defense holds, Florida can win. If Murphy shows out, we can all start the #MurphyForHeisman hashtag together.