A season-ending injury prompting a change at the quarterback position has dominated the talk around the Florida Gators this week.
To listen to Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, though, Florida’s transition from Jeff Driskel to Tyler Murphy hasn’t affected the Wildcats’ preparation too much.
“A little bit, not a whole bunch,” Stoops said. “I think both guys can run the ball a little bit when they want to. Certainly Murphy showed some athleticism and some speed (in a 31-17 win over Tennessee) and I'm sure they'll want to use him (carrying the ball) from time to time.”
Murphy, a junior, came off the Florida bench to complete eight of 14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown against the Volunteers. He also ran for 84 yards and a score, an aspect of his game that may concern the Wildcats even more than his throwing ability.
“Dual-threat” quarterbacks have infamously given UK trouble in the past – even little-known players replacing seemingly more-productive veterans – but the Big Blue Nation is eager to see how a Stoops-led defense fares against one.
“Their offense really won’t change that much,” Stoops said. “They have that… Q run game built into their offense, so we worked it last week. I’m sure they’ll have some different packages and build on them a little bit more. (But) I don’t know if it will be anything that we haven’t seen before.”
"We've got the same preparation," UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot added. "It's the same offense. We're alert to his skills, but the preparation won't change."
Stoops predicted the Gators may add a “Wildcat” package for Murphy that they haven’t shown to date, but noted that UK has worked against that set many times in practice.
Kentucky may have a couple of advantages in the matchup. The new staff is familiar with Florida's offense, having played the Gators late in the season when Stoops and Eliot were at Florida State.
The Cats are also coming off an open date, which not only gave the defense more time to prepare for Florida, but also offered a chance to expand its own package with wrinkles the Gators have yet to see. The staff is hoping some of those plays may rattle an inexperienced quarterback making his first start on the road with a unit already ranked 10th in the SEC in total offense and last in scoring.
Last but perhaps not least, the UK defense faces a quarterback similar to Murphy every day in practice in the form of Jalen Whitlow, who has thrown for 286 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 160 yards and two scores this season while splitting time with pro-style quarterback Max Smith.
“We run some plays (with Whitlow) that carry over,” Stoops acknowledged.
"It helps us," Eliot said. "We've seen a lot of action with a guy who can break the pocket through training camp and into the fall."