Top 25 Countdown

Murphy's Draw Lies in His Speed

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 25, 2008

Florida wide receiver Louis Murphy had burned the Florida State secondary for an early touchdown in the Gators' 2007 regular season finale, and as Tim Tebow made a pre-snap read just before halftime, Murphy appeared to stand a good chance of reaching the end zone once more. Lined up in the shotgun with a five-wideout set at his disposal, Tebow called for the ball, took a step back and fired it to one of his favorite -- yet, least heralded -- targets.

Murphy, situated in the middle of the three receivers spread out to Tebow's left, ran a quick out pattern, easily created distance from the safety covering him and dashed 14 yards for his second score of the game.

"If you can create matchup issues, you're in good shape," Florida Coach Urban Meyer said. "That's one of the benefits of spreading the defense, and when you have great speed, you create matchup issues."

Meyer became known for his spread offense at Utah, where he led the Utes to an undefeated season in 2004 that included a win over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. Just as it was at Utah, team speed has been the crux of Meyer's continued success at Florida. The Gators ran all over Ohio State in the BCS championship game two seasons ago, and Meyer said team speed will play a large role in determining how far Florida will go this year.

So while the team's star attractions -- Heisman hopefuls Tebow and wide receiver Percy Harvin -- will garner most of the media's and opposing defenses' attention, the effectiveness of players like Murphy, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior out of St. Petersburg, Fla., will prove just as critical.

"He's the leader of my group," wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales said. "You always have a guy that sets the pace, and this year, it's Lou. A big thing, he's been here since the beginning, and he's had a chance to see what it is that we want our players to be. He's a product of the system."

It's a system in which a player's value depreciates if he lacks the speed necessary to contribute to a blinding brand of offense. If Florida can offer speed at every offensive position, defenses are forced to make faulty adjustments, such as having a safety cover a wide receiver who also competes on his university's track and field squad.

In fact, the standards for quickness at Florida might be slightly out of whack compared with other programs. Running backs coach Kenny Carter said the coaching staff had a good laugh recently over sophomore cornerback Joe Haden (Friendly High School), who can run a 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds. That makes Haden the seventh-fastest player on the team.

"That puts things into perspective for you," Carter said. "You cause matchup problems, and you can make up for problems with speed. The biggest thing about our speed is that it's in so many different positions that it's almost impossible to game plan."

Opposing defenses can take solace in that it might be slightly less impossible to game plan for the Gators given recent injuries. Senior tight end Cornelius Ingram, a 2007 second-team all-SEC selection, will miss the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Harvin, who piled up 858 receiving yards and 764 rushing yards last season, has been slow to recover from offseason ankle surgery.

Though Florida has a stockpile of capable talent that can reconcile for any lingering injury issues, Meyer said Murphy will play a large role in the success of the team's offense.

"It's hard for me to say he's not the go-to guy," Meyer said. "Of course you've got Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow, two of the finest players in college football, but Louis Murphy is going to be the go-to guy. He's got to have a good year."

Murphy recorded 37 receptions for 548 yards and five touchdowns in 2007, good enough to gain recognition from his teammates but not spectacular enough to warrant much hype outside of Gainesville. Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy last season, said Murphy was "overshadowed" in the past but should get the attention he deserves this time around.

If only Murphy cared much about personal glory. His worldview was provided clearer perspective this past February when his mother, Filomena, died on Valentine's Day after a four-year battle with breast cancer.

He said he wants to show off his speed this season, but only so that he can frequent the end zone and point toward the sky. In addition to providing him peace of mind, the gesture also would mean his team was a little closer to victory.

"I, like my teammates, want to win games," Murphy said. "We would all love to win awards, but our first priority is to win, not pad our stats. My goals are to be in Atlanta and play for the national championship."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company