Missouri benched return specialist Marcus Murphy after he fumbled two punts at Kentucky, but coach Gary Pinkel won’t keep the preseason All-American return man sidelined against Mississippi.
Murphy fumbled the ball away after the Wildcats’ opening possession. His second fumble was negated by a penalty (after a lengthy review and discussion by game officials).
Pinkel didn’t want to take any more chances in the Kentucky game, but Murphy’s punishment has been rescinded when No. 8 Missouri kicks off at 6:45 p.m. Saturday against No. 24 Mississippi in Oxford, Miss.
“We didn’t play him as much after that, but he’ll be back 100 percent,” Pinkel said. “He’s having a great year. It’s just kind of a choice we had to make at the time.”
Murphy ranks sixth in the Southeastern Conference, averaging 23.7 yards per kickoff return. He is also averaging only 4.1 yards per punt return.
Unlike last season, when Murphy set a school record with three punt-return touchdowns last season and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown, the game-changing plays haven’t been there.
This season, Murphy’s longest kickoff return has been 42 yards and his longest punt return only 17 yards.
Still, Pinkel doesn’t think confidence (or a lack of it) played a role in Murphy’s fumbling issue.
“Ball leverage is ball leverage,” Pinkel said. “You have the five pressure points on the ball and you carry it high, the front end high. That’s the fundamentals of holding the football. Anytime it gets out anywhere here (away from the body), you get vulnerable and I think he’ll bounce back.”
Mississippi has a pretty studly punt returner of its own, senior running back Jeff Scott.
We asked John Davis of the Oxford Eagle about Scott, who returned against Troy after missing the previous three games, and for his insight on a few other things as well.Follow him on Twitter and read his work ahead of the game
•The Rebels have racked up at least 500 yards in four straight games, all wins, including a school-record 751 yards last week against Troy. What has clicked for the offense lately? Do you think that success will continue against a Missouri defense that leads the SEC in sacks (34) and interceptions (17)?
What has clicked for Ole Miss the past few weeks, more than anything, is the improvement of the offensive line. Bo Wallace has had time to throw the ball and the receivers have been a mismatch for the secondaries. Also, the defenses haven’t been as good as Alabama or Auburn, which did a great job of not only pressuring Wallace but stopping the offense on first down. That’s the key to slowing this offense, long down and distance.
I think Missouri’s defense will have some success against Ole Miss just because they have done it to every team this year. It should make for an interesting game and Ole Miss has a chance to move the ball, even against the Tigers, if they can run some and be in decent down and distance. If not, Tigers likely will get sacks and be able to pressure Wallace. All defenses are good when they can pin their ears back and just rush the passer.
•After a three-game absence with a thigh bruise and bone spurs, how did running back Jeff Scott look against Troy? What dimensions does he add to the offense when healthy?
Scott is a little rusty still but he’s as healthy as he was prior to the injury. He is the best all-around running back meaning he can go catch a punt or a pass out of the backfield or down the field as well as he can carry the ball around tackle. He’s very fast and just adds an extra, experienced player there.
•Obviously, Missouri has a pretty potent offense as well. What worries Ole Miss the most when game-planning to stop the Tigers?
I think Ole Miss is worried about the ability to run and throw. The quarterbacks don’t make much of a difference, according to Freeze, because he said the scheme is the same and he thought (redshirt freshman quarterback Maty) Mauk has played well, which he has considering his experience level. Missouri has a lot of weapons on the outside, I think that’s the key and area most worried about.
•Mississippi has struggled to generate much pass rush? So, what has been the Rebels’ secret to a relatively strong pass defense?
Ole Miss gets to the quarterback in different ways. Losing CJ Johnson at end meant bringing more bltizes from the linebackers. Serderius Bryant had two last week. They also have been better in the secondary compared to the last three, four years and around more balls for tips, picks.
•We hear The Grove is a special place on game day. What are some things Missouri fans traveling to the game should check out for the best experience in Oxford?
The Grove is a great place, lots of food and drink. Hopefully, the weather won’t be too bad, rain is expected up until kickoff. Missouri fans should at least look at the spectacle. There are about 20,000 in a 10-acre area, maybe more. It’s tough for visiting fans to get a spot, however, so the tailgating aspect in that specific spot may not be there. In the end, a lot to do and a lot to see.