By Christian Clark, KBIA Sports
Marcus Murphy recorded 204 all-purpose yards on Saturday, including a 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Murphy’s versatility could be a key to Missouri’s offensive success this season. Photo by Karen Mitchell.
Early in the third quarter Saturday at Memorial Stadium, Missouri found itself clinging to a 21-18 lead after South Dakota State reserve quarterback Zach Lujan connected with Jason Schneider for a successful two-point conversion. What was once a 14-point advantage for 24th-ranked Missouri had been whittled down to three. A hush fell over the crowd. Missouri needed a spark, a play, anything. Missouri needed Marcus Murphy.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Tigers’ senior scampered down the left sideline, and into the end zone to complete a 100-yard kickoff return. The touchdown gave Missouri a 10-point cushion and seemingly killed off all of South Dakota State’s momentum as the Tigers (1-0) went on to take their season opener 38-18.
“We were struggling. We went three-and-out, and then the defense was on the field and they had trouble getting off,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “It was a big, huge play. It was a game-breaking play.”
For Murphy — a 5-foot-9, 190-pound speedster out of DeSoto, Texas — those types of game-breaking plays are becoming routine. The 100-yard return Saturday was the fifth kickoff or punt he’s returned for a touchdown in his collegiate career, which puts him in a tie for the most in school history with former receiver and current Philadelphia Eagle Jeremy Maclin.
Coming into the game, Murphy wasn’t even sure he’d be responsible for returning kickoffs. He was listed second on the depth chart behind safety Ian Simon. Earlier in the week, Pinkel said he wanted to limit Murphy’s workload because he also plays running back, slot receiver and returns punts. But late in the second quarter, the Missouri coaching staff had a change of heart.
“It was just after the second kickoff return,” Murphy said. “They kicked it out of the end zone and (on) the next one coach (Brian) Jones called my name and just said, ‘you’re going to get this kick return,’ and I said, ‘cool.’”
Murphy’s impact didn’t stop with his special teams play. The Tigers’ Swiss army knife totaled 54 yards rushing on nine carries and made three catches for 20 yards. Murphy ended the day with 204 all-purpose yards, just two yards shy of his personal best of 206 against Southeast Louisiana in 2012.
Heading into this weekend’s matchup against Toledo, it appears Murphy made it too difficult for the Missouri coaching staff to keep him as the No. 2 kick returner. The Tigers’ playmaker sits atop the depth chart for both kick returns and punt returns. Murphy said he enjoys being first in line to return kicks, but added it doesn’t make a difference to him where he lines up as long he’s put in the position to make plays.
“Wherever I get the ball — it can be at running back, it can be at receiver, it can be at punt returner — I just like making plays,” he said. “Regardless of where I am on the field, regardless of what position I’m in, I just want to line up and make a play.”