GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tyler Murphy, a redshirt junior who had yet to throw a pass in three years at Florida, came off the bench after Jeff Driskel was injured and lost for the season, to lead the 19th-ranked Gators to a 31-17 victory over Tennessee on Saturday in a sloppy SEC opener in front of 90,074 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Murphy, from Wethersfield, Conn., completed 8-of-14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown, and ran for another 87 yards, including a seven-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that put the game out of reach.
More importantly, 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.
Driskel, a two-year starter for the Gators (2-1, 1-0 in the SEC) sustained a twisted right ankle on Florida's second possession when he was hit after throwing an interception to Tennessee freshman Devaun Swafford, who took it back 62 yards for a touchdown.
Driskel, who was wearing a brace on his left knee because of an injury sustained against Miami two weeks ago, is out for the season, coach Will Muschamp said after the game.
Enter Murphy, who handed the ball off in two late blowouts in 2011 and got in the game for one play in 2012, lining up as a wide receiver.
Although he fumbled two snaps that the Gators recovered and lost a fumble when center Jonothhan Harrison's snap hit him in the
facemask, Murphy never appeared overwhelmed by his surroundings.
Murphy was helped by the running game, as Mack Brown gained 88 yards on 24 carries, and Matt Jones added 49 on 12 rushes, behind a battered offensive line that enabled Florida to chew up the clock.
Brown and Jones each scored a touchdown on short runs.
Murphy showed much more poise than Nathan Peterman, a redshirt freshman who got the start for the Volunteers (2-2, 0-1) when Justin Worley was benched by coach Butch Jones following 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 five yards, and Tennessee had only 31 yards of offense with Peterman under center.
Jones went back to Worley for the second half. Worley completed 10-of-23 for 149 yards and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Alton Howard.
Michael Palardy added a 44-yard field goal for the Volunteers.
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 passes by Worley in the last six minutes.
Those were the Gators' fifth and sixth takeaways of the game.
In addition to losing Driskel, the Gators played without starting right tackle Tyler Moore (the third option this season after prior injuries), starting cornerback Marcus Roberson and third-down running back Valdez Showers.
The combination of injuries for the Gators and general ineptitude on offense for the Volunteer resulted in an ugly first half that ended with Florida ahead, 17-7.
Florida 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 Volunteers' 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 six-yard-line.
However, the Gators lost five yards on a fumbled snap on first down and eventually settled for Harden's field goal.
Murphy 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 touchdown.
When the Gators regained possession, Murphy accounted for 21 yards rushing and passing on a 40-yard drive that ended with Brown's three-yard touchdown run 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: Coach Will Muschamp suspended a player for the fifth time this season, when freshman wide receiver 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 sustained another huge blow on the injury front when senior offensive guard Jon Halapio, was playing his first game of the season after recovering from a chest injury, went out in the second quarter. He was able to return. ... Nathan Peterman played high school football at Bartram Trail, about 60 miles from Gainesville. ... When Devaun Swafford returned his interception for a touchdown in the first quarter, it marked the second scoring return this season for a Tennessee true freshman. It hadn't happened since Eric Berry did it in 2007, against the Gators. Cornerback Cameron Sutton had a pick-six against Western Kentucky.