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Tigers' Murphy now on Georgia's mind

2012-09-05T00:20:00Z 2012-09-05T12:26:56Z Tigers' Murphy now on Georgia's mindBY VAHE GREGORIAN • vgregorian@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8199 stltoday.com

COLUMBIA, Mo. • As a freshman in 2010, Mizzou tailback Marcus Murphy flashed promise with 22 carries for 181 yards — including a 69-yard touchdown dash at Texas Tech — and as the primary kickoff returner with 19.8 yards a run-back.

But after he was lost for last season with a shoulder injury he suffered in July, his absence was obscured by classmate Henry Josey's sensational season (1,168 yards, 8.1 yards a carry).

And when Josey suffered a horrific knee injury that forced him out of MU's last 3 1/2 games and the 2012 season, Josey was well-replaced by veteran Kendial Lawrence, who had 371 yards on 66 carries over the final four games.

If Murphy hadn't quite become an afterthought in the shuffle, he also wasn't a likely focal point of any scouting report on MU entering its season opener last week against Southeastern Louisiana.

But Lawrence knew something was bubbling in Murphy, who led MU in its spring game with 87 yards on 10 carries.

"I saw it in his eyes that he was just eager," Lawrence said.

And any diminished profile Murphy might have had changed abruptly Saturday when he became the first Tiger ever to return two kicks for touchdowns in the same game.

That earned him the distinction of Southeastern Conference special teams player of the week after MU's first game as a member of the league.

Consider No. 7 Georgia on to him for the Bulldogs' visit to Columbia Saturday for Mizzou's inaugural league game.

"It feels good, but I want to give thanks to the guys who were blocking up front," said Murphy, who had an MU-record 180 yards on five punt returns, including his scores from 72 and 70 yards away. "It's not an individual honor. I give it to the whole punt return team."

Grateful as he might be, the returns wouldn't have happened without the vision and reaction time and sheer speed of the man with the ball.

"The cliché is he's quick as a hiccup, and you see it," MU offensive coordinator David Yost said. "He can put his foot in the ground and change direction and make guys miss that are 3 and 4 yards away from him already."

Even adjusted for the quality of a foe that Mizzou crushed 62-10, the achievement was remarkable.

Only once before had MU as a team returned two kicks for scores in a game. In 1965, Johnny Roland had a 65-yard punt return and Ray Thorpe a 79-yard kickoff return for Mizzou's only touchdowns in a 14-14 tie with UCLA.

While Murphy's performance will make him an emphasis for opponents to come, MU coach Gary Pinkel said the evident potential for big plays could provide a further springboard.

Now that the punt return team knows it has "a guy" back there, it might be expected to block with more urgency — much as an offensive line might with an All-America back behind it.

" 'That's our guy; we're going to open seams for him,' " Pinkel said.

Murphy, the second-team tailback, also had 32 yards on five carries from scrimmage and might be expected to get a few more touches behind Lawrence, though Yost noted Lawrence had 121 yards on 10 carries and looked like he was 'shot out of a gun" on a 76-yard TD run.

Beyond that, though, Pinkel said he wasn't inclined to use Murphy on kickoff returns, where T.J. Moe started and freshman Russ Hansbrough uncorked a 56-yarder late in the game.

Players are where they are "because that's the way we evaluated them," Pinkel said. "I know you're dying to get me to put Marcus on kickoff return, but you're not in my staff meeting."

For his part, Murphy says he just wants to contribute "any kind of way" he can.

Especially after sitting out last season, when he considered trying to return late but opted to wait for full recovery.

"I think (the year out) gave me a little motivation; I have a little bit more hunger in me," said Murphy, who said teammates such as Josey kept him "highly spirited."

While Murphy seems to feel he doesn't own the punt return position 'solid" yet and still is working on aspects of the craft such as not thinking too much, it seems reasonable to suggest he has dibs on the job now.

To refine his grasp of if after very little experience with it even in high school, Murphy said he had studied film of former Mizzou star Jeremy Maclin, in whose footsteps he said he'd like to follow.

In particular he examined the way Maclin cut, his reads and "how he hit the hole with explosion. He didn't hesitate."

Neither does Murphy.

"Murphy probably plays on the field as fast as any guy we have with the football in his hands," Yost said.

As he reminded all after a year on the sideline.

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