Story by Joe Vozzelli
Photo by Karen Mitchell
Marcus Murphy takes the handoff from quarterback James Franklin in the game against Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, in Columbia,Mo. Murphy ran back two punts for touchdowns in the game, earning him the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week award. Photo by Karen Mitchell.
Marcus Murphy emerged on a rainy Saturday night at Faurot Field in a game that was already decided.
With Missouri ahead 34-3 against Southeastern Louisiana, the 5-foot-9 punt returner fielded a wobbly punt around the 30-yard line and ran straight into traffic around midfield. At the first sign of an opening, Murphy sprinted through a small hole in the coverage and it was all over. The Lions’ punter Matt McCormick, the only player who could stop Murphy, was no match for the shifty punt returner as Murphy went 70 yards for a touchdown.
Murphy wasn’t done, though.
The redshirt sophomore had another punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Missouri’s 62-10 victory. This time it was for 72 yards. Having two punt return touchdowns in one game — a first for a Missouri player — earned him the Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honor. In total, Murphy had 180 punt return yards, an MU single-game record.
Murphy, who redshirted the 2011 season because of a torn labrum in his shoulder, is second on the Missouri depth chart at tailback behind senior Kendial Lawrence. Lawrence is expected to get a majority of the carries at tailback, so Murphy’s best chance to make an impact on this team could be in the return game.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said the plan hasn’t changed for Missouri at tailback, even though Murphy had a good game on Saturday. Murphy had five carries at tailback for 32 yards against Southeastern Louisiana, while Lawrence had 10 carries for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Pinkel added that he doesn’t expect Murphy will get more carries at tailback in upcoming games.
“In our offense, we’re going to rotate,” Murphy said of the tailback situation. “It’s not just one running back. We all have to contribute. So, it just depends on the game plan for how much time I get at running back.”
Murphy’s performance Saturday reminded some of former Missouri punt returner Jeremy Maclin, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. Maclin made several big plays in the kicking game during his Missouri career, including a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown in the 2008 Alamo Bowl against Northwestern.
Murphy watched Missouri football when he was still at DeSoto High School in Texas.
“Jeremy Maclin is a real exciting guy to watch,” he said.
When Murphy found out that he’d be the Tigers’ punt returner for the season opener, he watched some film of Maclin’s punt returns at Missouri.
Pinkel isn’t one of those people comparing Murphy to Maclin.
He had a one-word answer when asked if Murphy reminds him of any of the punt returners he’s coached at Missouri in the past.
“He’s just got great speed and acceleration,” Pinkel said.
Pinkel explained how Murphy’s size is an asset for the punt returner.
“He’s also small so he kind of hides in there and all of the sudden you shoot him outside,” he said. “And then you get him out in space and that’s when he’s at his best.”
Missouri special teams coach Alex Grinch said what makes Murphy good is the punt returner has a sense of where his blockers are and where he has to go — his “field vision.”
Murphy figures to get plenty of opportunities to hone his field vision this season. He says that tailback and punt return require similar skill sets.
“You have to read the blocks, make cuts and have the right reads,” he said.
Murphy’s skills will be tested when Missouri plays No. 7 Georgia (1-0) Saturday at Faurot Field.
Murphy, however, has already looked at film of Georgia and thinks Missouri has an advantage.
“I think that (Missouri’s speed) will be one of our advantages in the SEC. We spread the ball out with a lot of speed,” he said.