GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tyler Murphy, a redshirt junior who had yet to attempt a pass in three years at the University of Florida, came off the bench after starting quarterback Jeff Driskel broke his right leg to lead the 19th-ranked Gators to a 31-17 victory over Tennessee on Saturday in a sloppy SEC opener for both teams in front of 90,074 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Driskel, a junior who led the Gators to an 11-2 record last season, will be out for the season and is scheduled to undergo surgery on Sunday for a fracture of his right tibia. He was tackled in the first quarter after letting a ball go that Tennessee's Devaun Swafford intercepted and return 62 yards for a touchdown.
Murphy completed 8-of-14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown, and ran for a 87 yards and 7-yard fourth-quarter TD that put the game out of reach.
He was helped by the Florida defense, ranked third in the nation, which collected six turnovers.
More important, Murphy was up to the task of managing the game and led Florida to more points on his watch than Driskel had posted in a game this season.
Murphy's previous college experience was handing the ball off in two late blowouts in 2011 and getting in a game for one play in 2012, lining up as a wide receiver.
"It was always in the back of my mind that I might never play," Murphy said. "But I stayed patient. I kept telling myself to be patient."
Florida coach Will Muschamp said, "Tyler did a fantastic job coming into these circumstances and perfoming well. He's a guy who's worked extremely hard and he cashed is on his opportunity today."
Although Murphy fumbled two snaps (the Gators recovered both) and lost a fumble when center Jonothhan Harrison's snap hit him in the facemask, he never appeared overwhelmed by his surroundings. He was helped when running backs Mack Brown (24 carries, 88 yards)
and Matt Jones (12 for 49) asserted themselves in the second half behind a battered offensive line, enabling Florida (2-1) to chew the clock.
Brown and Jones each scored a touchdown on short runs.
Murphy showed much more poise than Nathan Peterman, a redshirt freshman who started for the Volunteers (2-2, 0-1) when Justin Worley was benched by coach Butch Jones after last week's 59-10 loss to Oregon.
Peterman threw two interceptions and fumbled once, with Florida scoring after each turnover. He completed 4-of-11 passes for 5 yards, and Tennessee had only 31 yards of offense with Peterman under center.
Jones went back to Worley for the second half. Worley (10-of-23, 149 yards) threw an 18-yard TD pass to Alton Howard and Michael Palardy kicked a 44-yard field goal.
"He had a great week of preparation," Jones said in his decision to elevate Peterman. "A lot of it, to the naked eye ... everyone wants to point to the quarterback. But I didn't think we did a good job protecting the quarterback. And there were some drops, some receivers ran the wrong routes ... we never let him get into a rhythm."
Peterman was not made avaiable to comment by Tennessee.
There were seven turnovers in the first half, but the teams settled down and didn't give the ball away in the second half until Florida's Jabari Gorman and Marcus Maye intercepted Worley in the last six minutes for the Gators' fifth and sixth takeaways of the game.
"We never felt like we were beat," Tennessee running back Marlin Lane said. "We kept fighting and fighting."
In addition to losing Driskel, the Gators played without starting right tackle Tyler Moore (the third option this season after previous injuries), starting cornerback Marcus Roberson and third-down running back Valdez Showers.
The combination of the Gators' injuries and the Volunteers' general ineptitude on offense resulted in an ugly first half that ended with Florida on top 17-7. The Gators contributed to the comedy of errors with the center snap that bounced off Murphy's facemask and a dropped
punt snap by Kyle Christy.
Florida cut the Vols' early lead to 7-3 on Austin Harden's 23-yard field goal late in the first quarter, set up when Fowler sacked Peterman, forcing a fumble that linebacker Michael Taylor recovered at the Tennessee 6. But the Gators lost 5 yards on a fumbled snap on first down, got the ball back and settled for Harden's three-pointer.
Murphy then got settled in and led Florida on two scoring drives in the second quarter. He threw a bubble screen to Soloman Patton, who dashed down the right sideline or a 52-yard TD. He then accounted for 21 yards rushing and passing on a 40-yard possession that ended with Mack Brown's 3-yard score with 37 seconds left in the half.
That drive was set up when Peterman's wobbly pass was intercepted by Florida tackle Darious Cummings, who returned the ball 30 yards. He might have scored, but teammate Dominique Easley got tangled up with him trying to block downfield.
NOTES: Muschamp suspended his fifth player of the season in three games when freshman WR Demarcus Robinson was benched for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Robinson was backing up Quinton Dunbar but had yet to make a catch this season. ... The Gators almost suffered another huge blow on the injury front when senior guard Jon Halapio, was playing his first game of the season after recovering from a pec injury, went out in the second quarter. He was able to return. ... Peterman played high school football at Bartram Trail, about 60 miles from Gainesville. ... When Swafford returned his interception for a touchdown in the first quarter, it marked the second this season for a Vols true freshman. It hadn't happened since Eric Berry in 2007 -- against the Gators. Cornerback Cameron Sutton had a pick six against Western Kentucky.