Murphy, Tigers in pursuit of strong finish

Marcus Murphy gives Missouri a spark heading into the second half of the season.
Maneater File Photo

“Magic” is the word that football coach Gary Pinkel has used lately, and he knows none of that can give his team the salvation it needs in its 0-4 Southeastern Conference campaign.

Pinkel trusts the formula he brews himself. There’s nothing superficial about it. This past week was his team’s bye week, because this past week was the portion on his team’s unmerciful schedule that pointed to rest. This past week finally came after unsuccessful bouts with then-No. 7 Georgia and then-No. 7 South Carolina and still-No. 1 Alabama.

And during bye weeks, there’s a formula. Game planning on Sundays and Mondays. Game planning installation on Tuesday and Thursdays. Recruiting throughout the week. Players are off. Maybe some lifting, some cardio.

“I think one thing we do is we’re real consistent around here,” Pinkel said. “The bye week schedule is our bye week schedule. We don't put in brand-new offenses, brand-new defenses. … What we do works. We coach better, we play better, we’ll win more. That's the way it works. The system doesn't change. How we compete, how we handle adversity, how we handle success is never changed.”

As Pinkel’s candidness would put it, injuries happen, and that’s that. There is no healing antidote, and he won’t take part in discussion about his hampered offensive line or his starting quarterback, junior James Franklin, expected to miss his third game of the season this weekend.

“Everybody's talking about it, and I just don't want to talk about it,” Pinkel said of injuries. “It doesn’t matter. To say it’s difficult and a tough situation, we all know that.”

Senior left tackle Elvis Fisher was asked how his knees are. The ACL tore in his left knee last year. The MCL in his right knee was sprained in the game against Georgia.

He’s a captain of his coach’s team, and all he provides is this:

“They’re pretty good,” he said. “They’re pretty good.”

But the bye week, he said, was needed.

“The grind of the season will get at you a little bit, and this season especially has been tough on us,” he said. “So it’s good to get away physically and mentally as well.”

Senior receiver T.J. Moe, who said he went home an hour and a half away to be with family and watch high school football on Friday night, relates.

“We could use a bye week every other week in my opinion,” he said. “… It’s just a tough, tough season to go through.”

Leading up to their homecoming weekend with the Wildcats, also winless in the SEC, the Tigers, 3-4 overall, are coming off their 42-10 loss to the Crimson Tide. It was a game that began with a torrential downpour and ended with fright and junior tight end Eric Waters being carted off the field motionless (Pinkel said Waters was a full participant in Sunday’s practice and will be “100 percent” this weekend).

The loss was a disheartening end to the team’s opening slate of the 2012 schedule and perhaps an ominous precursor to the latter portion.

But there was magic in the middle. It was the same magic that happened three times before. For a school-record fourth time in the season, sophomore Marcus Murphy took a kickoff and dashed for a touchdown. The following week, Sports Illustrated included the DeSoto, Texas, native in its midseason All-American team.

It’s the small space, just the crease that opens up, Pinkel said.

“… And he can make people miss,” Pinkel said. “And he does what he does naturally. I don't think you coach it, teach it — he just has that gift.”

It’s the decisiveness, just the instinct that flashes along with his feet, Moe said.

“He’s just a step quicker than you think he is,” Moe said. “He’s just not where he’s gonna be when you try and tackle him.”

There’s more than the mad race, more than just the sprint as if he were back on his high school track team running the 4-x-100 and 4-x-200 meter relays in the spring, Murphy said.

“I’m just focused on catching the ball, (then) I’m looking down field,” Murphy said. “I use my vision to set up blocks. Once I see the hole, my whole focus goes on getting the touchdown.”

Then comes the next part.

“I think what happens, too, if you’re on the kickoff return team and you know you have a guy back there that can do that, well, you block a little harder, you sustain a little harder,” Pinkel said.

Certainly, it’s a process that’s difficult to explain. It just happens, and Murphy goes as far as he can.

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