COLUMBIA, Missouri — Missouri running back Marcus Murphy expects to make a big play every game. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn't.
"On Saturday, it happened a lot," the fifth-year senior said of his performance against the Florida Gators.
He scored three touchdowns in the 42-13 win in Gainesville, gaining 224 all-purpose yards to boost his Southeastern Conference-leading average to 149.1 per game. His kickoff return and punt return gave him seven career scores on special teams — leapfrogging Jeremy Maclin by two for the school record.
Maclin, now a receiver with the Philadelphia Eagles, tweeted his congratulations after the game, calling Murphy "a beast." Murphy felt honored by the gesture from Maclin, whose speed Murphy says he tries to emulate. It's a difficult task, but quickness and field vision come naturally to the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Murphy.
"They're very gifted," coach Gary Pinkel said of the two players. "When they're in space, they see things differently, feel things differently. You don't coach those things."
The Tigers' special teams carried the bulk of scoring against the Gators, with the offense managing only 119 total yards, highlighted by Murphy punched in another touchdown on a 5-yard run. Missouri (5-2, 2-1) gained just 147 yards in 34-0 loss to Georgia the previous week and the team's average of 182 yards per game against league opponents ranks last in the SEC.
"If we get that one big play, I think we'll be right back to where that confidence level needs to be," center Evan Boehm said. "We've got to keep that confidence. We've got to keep chugging along."
Boehm thinks Murphy could easily provide the spark, and Murphy said he is holding himself responsible to either make a play or cheer the players who do. Running backs coach Brian Jones said Murphy has made strides in his development off the field, becoming more vocal and using lessons learned in graduate-level education classes to show positive coaching.
"Being here five years, I've played with a lot of players, a lot of different leaders," Murphy said. "And I looked up to all of them. Just sitting back and realizing that I've been here so long, and there's younger guys looking up to me, it's special."
Missouri's offense can get back on track this week against Vanderbilt (2-5, 0-4), which is allowing 415.9 yards per game and an SEC-worst 34 points per game.
But until that happens, the onus is on the defense to ensure the team remains in the SEC East race.
Defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said he coaches the same way, no matter the score, "yelling" at them to focus until time runs out. It worked last week, as the Tigers forced six turnovers and scored two defensive touchdowns. That inadvertently contributed to a league-low average time of possession (26:21), which prompted linebacker Michael Scherer to joke, "We decided to keep the offense off the field and go ahead and play a little bit more."
Sustainable or not, Scherer hopes the defense's performance can jumpstart the offense. Receiver Bud Sasser agreed, saying Mizzou needs to take advantage of opportunities and move on from its mistakes.
If not, they can always turn to Murphy.
"Whenever he's out on the field, you can expect something big from him," Sasser said. "You just don't know exactly what to expect."
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