Florida Gators 31, Tennessee Volunteers 17: The Starting QB Is Hurt. Long Live the Starting QB!

Al Messerschmidt

Jeff Driskel goes down and the Florida offense appears to have the beginnings of a spark. Might the Gators be better off without their starting quarterback?

It could be a mistake to take too much away from this game. It was a horribly sloppy meeting between one team that is expected to contend for the top of the SEC East and another that is at best expected to compete for fourth place. And it could particularly be a mistake to read too much into the Florida offense's performance against Tennessee, which did not exactly show itself to be full of Bednarik contenders in the loss to Oregon.

In fact, throw in the nine turnovers -- yes, nine -- and you have a good case that nothing should be taken away from this game at all. Except that, after Jeff Driskel went down with what Will Muschamp says is a season-ending ankle injury, Tyler Murphy looked really good.

Maybe not great, but good. Murphy was 8-of-14 for 134 yards and a touchdown. He did not throw an interception in a game that featured five of them, four by Tennessee. His 161.11 passing efficiency rating, better than Jeff Driskel in all but three of games Driskel has played since he took over as starter last year. And Murphy carried the ball 10 times for 84 yards and another touchdown.

Which is not to say that Florida is somehow better off without Driskel. There's obviously a reason that Driskel began the year as the starting quarterback, and the SEC can be a difficult adjustment for a first-time starting quarterback. Murphy will face LSU, Georgia and South Carolina (read: Jadeveon Clowney) in the next two months, though Kentucky and Arkansas could prove to be relatively easy on-ramps for him.

But Florida looked close to good on offense Saturday for the first time in a long time. Florida scored all 31 points and gained 344 of its 382 yards in the roughly 55 minutes of playing time after Murphy took over. They're not going to be the Spurrier-era Gators right now, but there are signs of hope for the Florida offense, though potentially at great cost. For all the criticisms Driskel often took from some quarter of the Florida fan base, he led the team to a 11-3 record as a starter and a BCS bowl last season. He doesn't deserve having people dance on his medical records.

It's a little bit hard to get a read on whether this is more or less hope for Tennessee now. Certainly, very few people on either side expected the Volunteers to win this game. And it's not like they got blown out; losing on the road by two touchdowns to Florida in the fourth game of a rebuilding season isn't terrible. But having six turnovers -- including one on the final play of the game -- is terrible, and the 65.40 passing efficiency rating for the Tennessee quarterbacks is dreadful. (In part because of the turnovers, but I digress.)

The only reasonable goal for Tennessee at this point appears to be getting to a bowl with a .500 record, and that's going to be challenging. There are two surefire wins left on the schedule in South Alabama and Kentucky, meaning the Vols need two wins out of Georgia, South Carolina, at Alabama, at Missouri, Auburn and Vanderbilt. Whether the loss Saturday changes the likelihood of any of that is debatable, but they almost certainly have to avoid the kind of mistakes they made in this game to play in the postseason.

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