Missouri senior Marcus Murphy has topped 100 all-purpose yards in 13 of his 39 career games.
Murphy is a running back by trade, but he also was a second-team All-American return specialist in 2012 and is working some at slot receiver this season.
Given his versatility, it’s no surprise that Murphy has vaulted to fourth in Tigers history with 3,545 career all-purpose yards. He sits behind only Jeremy Maclin (5,609), Brad Smith (4,419) and Devin West (3,824) and has passed Brock Olivo, Zack Abron, Darrell Wallace and Joe Stewart already this season.
It might come as a surprise, though, that Murphy topped 100 all-purpose yards in back-to-back games for the first time in his career with 204 against South Dakota State and 150 against Toledo.
Shockingly, Murphy also recorded his first career start on offense during Saturday’s 49-24 win against the Rockets.
“I thought about that,” Murphy said. “(Coach Gary Pinkel) told us our first plays Thursday, and I thought, ‘I’ve been here five years, and that’s my first career start.’ I was happy.”
Murphy is listed as the co-starter at tailback along with junior Russell Hansbrough.
Missouri’s staff would like to split out Murphy more in the slot. The same skills that make him such an electrifying return specialist will be better utilized on the edge.
“He’s just got the ‘it’ factor for it,” Pinkel said of Murphy’s game-changing return prowess. “When he gets out in space, he’s a great space runner. … The players around him understand they’ve just got to get him a few blocks here or there. He’s just good in space. He feels people. He senses the right things to do — and you don’t coach that.”
From the slot, the Tigers figure it would be easier to get Murphy the ball in space on offense, but that plan is on hold a bit until sophomore Morgan Steward returns from a hip injury.
Steward will miss his third straight game when the Tigers battle Central Florida at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
“We have to wait and see if Morgan gets back and how that whole thing unfolds,” Pinkel said. “I can’t look at a crystal ball. But I do know, if we get Morgan back and he’s healthy, we’ll use Murph also to run the football, but we’ll also use him on the perimeter as a receiver.”
Until then, Murphy will continue to rotate with Hansbrough in the backfield as true freshman Ish Witter and perhaps even junior Tyler Hunt, a former walk-on, find a niche in the offense.
Pinkel doesn’t want to grind down Murphy (or Hansbrough, for that matter) so early in the season through overuse. The Tigers’ top two backs will get roughly equal reps for now until Steward’s return.
“One reason I think we’ve been a reasonably good running team the past few years is that we try to keep those guys fresh,” Pinkel said. “They’re not as big as some of the backs, but they’ve got great quickness and speed and explosiveness. We try to make sure that they are fresh when they’re in there, so you’re getting their to speed and quickness all the time.”
Pinkel offered the following on Steward’s status:
“We really want him back obviously … he’s got great ability and is one of the fastest players on the team. He weighs 210 pounds, so he’s the biggest back that we have. Hopefully, we’ll get him back here in the next couple weeks, but right now he’ll be out this week. He’s working hard and getting better. He really is, but there’s a process and, like I always handle everything here, the medical staff does their thing and just tell me if a guy can play or can’t play.”