John Denton's Knights Insider: Murray's Big-Play Ability

Nov. 16, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. - There came a moment last Saturday night when UCF head coach George O'Leary took the temperature of the high-scoring game, broke from the script and made an executive decision regarding tailback Latavius Murray.

``I finally said, `Get him in and leave him in,''' O'Leary said. ``He's sort of a streaky guy, but he makes plays and makes people miss.''

UCF has spent most of the season using a revolving door at the tailback position, alternating senior Ronnie Weaver and juniors Brynn Harvey and Murray. But O'Leary's decision to go almost exclusively with Murray down the stretch against Southern Miss was an easy one considering the game-turning play the 6-foot-3, 225-pound speedster made earlier in the night.

When Southern Miss popped up a kickoff to keep the ball away from Rannell ``Speedy'' Hall in the third quarter, Murray decided against a fair catch and started his return at the 31-yard line. He adeptly sidestepped a would-be tackler who seemed ready to crush him, ran through an arm tackle and got to the outside where there was no catching him. Sixty-nine yards later Murray was in the end zone for UCF's first touchdown and a score that ignited a furious UCF comeback.

UCF (4-6 overall and 2-4 in Conference USA play) ultimately lost 30-29 when quarterback Blake Bortles' two-point pass was batted down on the final play of the game. But what emerged from the game was this: The dazzling Murray needs to be on the field more - starting with Saturday's game at East Carolina - because of his ability to turn almost any play into a touchdown.

``I'm ready to play every time that I step on the field,'' Murray stressed. ``Last year, it just so happened that I got a chance to play late in the season and that's when I came about and made a statement. I'm always ready, but even more so now because I know how important it is for us to get these two wins.''

It's only fitting that Murray seems to be taking flight at this point in the season. Last year, he didn't assume the starting tailback job until Week 11. He made the most of that opportunity, running for 146 yards in his first career start, scoring two touchdowns in the C-USA title game and ultimately earning MVP honors of the Liberty Bowl. Murray scored what will go down in history as one of the most significant touchdowns in school history when he rumbled 10 yards off left guard for the game-winning score against Georgia.

The hope now is that Murray is hitting his stride just in time considering the predicament the Knights are in. UCF must win Saturday at East Carolina and again in the regular-season finale at home against UTEP to qualify for a bowl game. The Knights have been in bowl games each of the past two years and in three of the last four seasons, so they are eager to keep the streak alive.

``We want to get to a bowl game really bad, and especially we want these seniors to go out with some big wins and make it to a bowl game,'' Murray said. ``We want to do it for them. Getting to a bowl would be a nice way to finish this season off.''

The season has been a choppy one for Murray because of the rotation at the tailback position. Harvey (123 carries, 570 yards, three rushing TDs), Weaver (74 carries, 290 yards, three rushing TDs) and Harvey (56 carries, 229 yards, five rushing TDs) have regularly rotated from series to series, occasionally robbing them of the opportunity to get into a rhythm. All three are the best of friends and supportive of one another, but that hasn't lessened the difficulty of having to share the position.

``It's a lot harder because we have two other backs like Brynn and Ronnie who should be on the field as well,'' Murray said. ``We've just had to figure it out and when you get on the field make the best of what you have. I want to play just as much as they want to play, so it's tough.''

Weaver played early in the game, but O'Leary made the switch to Murray last Saturday night following his spectacular kickoff return for a score. He was productive with his touches, averaging 4.8 yards a rush and scampering 31 yards on two receptions.

Catching passes out of the backfield is where he excels the most - as evidenced by his 20.4-yard average on receptions this season. He took a screen pass 53 yards against UAB to set up a late go-ahead score and had catches for 14 yards against Memphis and Tulsa. And last Saturday night his 17-yard catch and run put the Knights in position for a touchdown that put them briefly up 23-22 in the fourth quarter.

``More than anything when I have to run somebody over and get those tough yards, I have to do that. I have that ability to make guys miss in the open field and use my speed,'' Murray said. ``I love the pass game and catching the ball. That's something that comes natural to me. I love getting the ball out in the open field, so I don't want to mess up in those situations.''

Again, O'Leary wants Murray on the field more for his big-play capabilities.

``We have three running backs, but we have three for a reason and there are certain styles of games that Murray is just better in,'' O'Leary said. ``We weren't moving the line of scrimmage, but we could throw the ball. Murray just has a knack of making that first guy miss and making big plays.

``Brynn has been banged up lately and we've gotten the backs in and out, but I think the rotation should be with Murray out there,'' O'Leary continued. ``About the same time last year Murray started to come on for us and I hope he can continue that in this game coming up.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.