By Brandon Kiley, KBIA Sports
Marcus Murphy honored for his historic performance vs. Florida: Every football team needs a player that can make something out of nothing. For the 2014 Missouri Tigers, that player seems to be Marcus Murphy. Murphy was honored for his playmaking ability on Monday when the Southeastern Conference named him the SEC’s special teams player of the week.
It started on Saturday when the fifth-year senior returned Florida’s opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
“When you’re in that environment and you start out with a kickoff return for a touchdown, that’s a mammoth momentum play for the whole team,” Pinkel said.
The best night of Murphy’s career didn’t stop there. He returned another punt return for a touchdown late in the third quarter and added a receiving touchdown for good measure. The DeSoto, Texas native finished the game with a career-high 224 all-purpose yards, becoming the third player in Missouri football history to gain more than 4,000 career all-purpose yards.
“It’s special,” Murphy said. “To even be mentioned on the list of the most all-purpose yards here at (Missouri), it’s special to be on a list with those guys.”
Murphy’s two return touchdowns against Florida also broke the tie he held with former two-time All-American receiver Jeremy Maclin for the most career return touchdowns at Missouri. When asked who was the better returner, coach Pinkel declined to comment, adding that Maclin and Murphy are both great players.
“You can’t coach seeing those seams,” Pinkel said. “Coach (Brian) Jones, who is in charge of kickoff return, will say he coaches it. He’s lying. You can’t coach it.”
Murphy remembers all of his returns fondly, but there’s something about his punt return on Saturday against Florida that stands out.
“After watching the punt return from Florida, that’s my favorite,” Murphy said. “A lot of people don’t know that it was the punt return safe team. To show that we can come out and get a good return on punt return safe shows a lot.”
Coach Pinkel and the rest of the Tigers are quickly running out of superlatives to use when describing Murphy’s play.
“When do you want me to stop,” senior offensive tackle Mitch Morse said. “Exhilarating, phenomenal, great. He makes our job easier. He’s just a good dude… It’s such a blessing to have him on this team”
Harold Brantley Breaks Out: For months, the Tigers coaching staff has gushed about the potential of redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Harold Brantley. That potential has turned into production over the past few weeks, and it came to a head on Saturday in Missouri’s 42-13 win over the Florida Gators.
“He had a great game,” Pinkel said. “And I think it’s only a glimpse of what he can be. He’s still a young guy, and he has so much potential.”
Brantley wasn’t alone in his dominance against the Gators. In fact, the SEC honored Missouri defensive end Shane Ray as the SEC defensive player of the week for his two-sack performance. Ray notched his fourth multiple-sack game of the season, including a sack-strip play that led to Markus Golden’s 21-yard scoop-and-score touchdown in the third quarter.
Ray got the award, but the junior defensive end was quick to acknowledge the impact Brantley has on Ray’s play.
“I always tell him, a defensive end is only as good as his defensive tackle,” Ray said. “Every sack that I get, most of the time, it’s because of him.”
Brantley racked up six tackles, a tackle for loss and a sack against the Gators offensive line. His dominance was further demonstrated after the Gators scored their final touchdown of the game on the point after attempt. Brantley used his rare combination of speed and strength to bulldoze through the Florida offensive line to block the extra point.
“He’s got a lot of potential,” Ray said. “He’s gotten bigger and he just continues to get faster and stronger and demanding more double teams as the season has gone on.”
It’s Brantley’s combination of speed and strength that is prompting some lofty comparisons from his coaches and teammates.
“He has a lot of movement abilities similar to Sheldon Richardson,” Pinkel said. “They’re similar size, also. They move like linebackers, but they weigh close to 300 pounds.”
Richardson was impossible to block at times in his two years as a starter at Missouri. His combination of production and untapped potential were enough for the New York Jets to select him with the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
“It’s pressure, but I like it,” Brantley said about being compared to Richardson on Saturday after the game. “If I can be compared to someone like (Richardson), it lets me know that I’m taking steps in the right direction. But it also lets me know that I have a lot of work to do to make sure I fill those big shoes.”
There was a time in the off-season when Brantley was buried on the depth chart for undisclosed reasons. The Missouri coaches have all raved about Brantley’s ability to overcome that adversity.
“We’ve had a high expectation for him ever since he got here,” defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said. “And now I think his expectations of his performance are at our level.”
Offensive Woes Continue: Missouri would probably take 42 points in every game if they could, but it’s how the Tigers scored those points against Florida that can be frustrating for coach Pinkel and the offense.
“You have to take a step back,” Morse said. “This was an unbelievable win, but there are certain things that we need to fix.”
Saturday marked the third straight game in which the Missouri offense failed to pass for more than 150 yards. The Tigers’ 20 passing yards will go down as the lowest passing output by Missouri in a game since a 35-14 loss at Ohio State in 1998.
“I think we’re making something that’s pretty simple, hard,” Missouri senior wide receiver Bud Sasser said. “And, when you keep doing that, things just don’t work out the way you want them to.”
Coaches and players have repeatedly said that the issues have to do with execution. This week the players seemed to agree that the offensive line took a step forward. The passing game, however, still has some improving to do.
“It’s really, really small things,” Sasser said. “We watch it on film after the game and we see how small the mistakes are, but they end up being really costly later on in the game… We’re just not doing the basic things that we were doing when we were really successful on offense.”
Despite the struggles, there will be no change at quarterback. Coach Pinkel decided against putting backup quarterback Eddie Printz in the game in Missouri’s 34-0 loss to Georgia or the 42-13 blowout victory against Florida.
“I didn’t even think about it until a couple people were asking me about it,” Sasser said. “I never even thought about Maty being taken out of the game. I never thought about that. At all.”