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Tigers surge forward in win over Central Florida

Will Ebner's performance in the 21-16 win was the latest reason for his teammates' respect.

Junior James Franklin passes the ball downfield Saturday at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Fla. Missouri defeated the Central Florida Knights 21-16.

Alex Schierholtz/Central Florida Future
Caitlin Holland/Graphic Designer

Oct. 2, 2012

Few Tigers have spent more time on the mend the past couple seasons than Will Ebner.

Ebner, a redshirt senior linebacker, suffered a concussion in the 2011 season opener against Miami (Ohio), and the effects caused him to miss the rest of the season.

In 2010, Ebner missed a pair of games due to a neck strain and played the remainder of the season hampered by a foot injury, which needed surgery in the offseason.

And that was coming off a 2009 campaign in which Ebner was an Associated Press honorable mention All-Big 12 Conference selection as a true sophomore.

A medical redshirt allowed the Friendswood, Texas, native to return to Columbia for a fifth season. And he’s taken advantage of his senior redo.

“Will’s a talented player,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “He’s been hurt his whole career, and now you see him play week-to-week, what kind of player he is, how tough he is and how competitive he is.”

Finally healthy, Ebner leads all Tigers with 41 tackles on the season. His downhill style of play has apparently translated well from the finesse of the Big 12 to the more rugged Southeastern Conference.

“He’s been doing some really great things on a consistent basis,” Pinkel said. “He’s been hurt so much in his career — it’s nice for him to finally be able to go out and play so we can see what kind of player he really is.”

The success of the man in the middle of the Tiger defense comes as no surprise to his teammates.

“Everybody’s always had confidence in him to play like this,” redshirt defensive end Brad Madison said. “He’s a great linebacker.”

After just one game last season, Ebner was named a co-captain for the 2012 campaign and has done more than make an impact between the white lines.

Junior corner E.J. Gaines, who in three years at Missouri said he can’t recall Ebner ever being 100 percent, praised Ebner’s leadership.

“He does all the little things right, has a good work ethic," Gaines said. "It’s all there. He’s healthy and he knows that we need him, so he’s stepping up into a leadership role and he’s taken it head-on to help make this football team what it should be.”

‘He’s back’

Junior quarterback James Franklin showed no ill effects of an injured throwing shoulder Saturday, taking chances vertically while completing 19-of-30 passes for 257 yards.

At media day Monday, Pinkel said the once-inflamed bursa sac was no longer an issue.

"We're not even talking about his shoulder anymore,” Pinkel said. “That's over. He's back."

Pinkel also said that Franklin’s one miscue Saturday — an interception in the red zone —was not the quarterback’s fault. Franklin threw the ball “exactly where it was supposed to be,” but a receiver ran the wrong route, according to Pinkel.

Tigers receive honors

After his 66-yard punt return touchdown Saturday against Central Florida, redshirt sophomore tailback Marcus Murphy was named the SEC’s co-special teams player of the week Monday morning. This was the second time Murphy has earned the distinction this year, the first following his two returns for touchdowns in Missouri’s season opener against Southeastern Louisiana. With his scamper to the end zone Saturday, Murphy tied a school-record for career punt return touchdowns and set a new season-high mark.

“I just want to be known as a playmaker,” Murphy said. “I didn’t get a lot of carries this week, so I just want to let my coaches know they can depend on me on special teams, in the backfield, wherever.”

Gaines and fellow junior defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson were also on the SEC’s weekly awards list for "outstanding" performances. Gaines recorded a career-high 13 tackles against the Knights along with a forced fumble. Richardson tallied nine tackles, including two for losses, and ended the day by recovering the fumble forced by Gaines, which ended UCF’s chances of overcoming the Tigers’ 21-16 advantage late in the fourth quarter.

“That was a relieving play, man,” Richardson said of the fumble recovery. “That was the game-winner. For me, I got off the field and got my breath back.”

Seth Boster contributed to this article.

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