When he set foot on the University of Oklahoma campus in 2006, expectations were sky high for running back DeMarco Murray. Fast-forward to 2010 and you’ll see that things have not changed in that regard. In fact, based on his career, one could argue that expectations have only been elevated during his time in Norman.
Murray came to OU as one of the best athletes in the country and one of the highest-touted running backs. ESPN ranked him as the best running back and the sixth-best overall player, while Rivals.com ranked him as the best player in Nevada and second-best all-purpose back in the country.
Oh, and did I mention he lead his high school basketball team to a state title and was also a top-30 basketball recruit on top of his football accolades?
Simply put, Murray came to OU as a stud.
A full stable of running backs led to Murray redshirting in 2006. Once Murray hit the field, his impact was both dramatic and immediate.
In Murray’s first collegiate game, the 2007 season opener against North Texas, he scored five touchdowns. Not a bad way to start off a career.
Murray continued to electrify audiences throughout the year, finishing with 764 rushing yards, 13 rushing touchdowns, and two receiving touchdowns.
His 15 total rushing and receiving touchdowns tied the OU freshman record set by Adrian Peterson.
The defining moment of the season for Murray—and perhaps the image that Sooner fans everywhere will have upon hearing his name—came against arch-rival Texas, where Murray ripped off a 65-yard touchdown run in which he hurdled one of his own linemen to kick start his sprint to the end zone.
However, 2007 didn’t end so well for Murray. He was injured in the game against Texas Tech and missed the rest of that game, as well as Bedlam against OSU, and the Sooners’ humiliating Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia.
In 2008, Murray received more carries and thus, produced more yards on the ground. Murray finished the year with 1,002 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground despite splitting carries with fellow running back Chris Brown, who also broke the 1,000-yard mark and scored 20 touchdowns on the ground.
Murray also began to develop into more of a receiving threat out of the backfield as a sophomore. After only catching 14 passes as a freshman, Murray had 31 receptions for 395 yards in 2008. Although he didn’t have a receiving touchdown, Murray was constantly a thorn for defenses to contend with due to his ability to make a play in the open field.
Unfortunately for Murray and Oklahoma, 2008 ended exactly the way 2007 did: sitting on the sideline. On the opening kickoff of the Big 12 Championship against Missouri, Murray suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss that game and the Sooners’ national championship appearance against Florida.
The Sooners rolled Missouri, but desperately missed Murray against Florida, against whom they could simply not establish a consistent running threat.
One of the biggest transitions that Murray was experiencing was moving from the role of the electric playmaker to every down grinder. Murray did not have nearly as many huge plays as a sophomore like he did as a freshman, but he was proving his worth in different ways.
The Sooners looked to dominate in 2009, but injuries and inconsistency on the offensive line hampered their ability to match the offensive juggernaut of 2008. No one was more affected than the running backs.
Murray and Brown both went from over 1,000 yards to less than 800. Murray finished the year with 705 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
He continued to grow as a receiver however, catching a career-high 41 passes for 522 yards and four touchdowns.
Even though it was quite the sub-par season for both the Sooners and Murray individually, the Las Vegas native still managed to make many big plays with his athleticism.
The best news about 2009 for Murray is that he was able to play through to the end of the season and scored a touchdown in the Sooners’ 31-27 Sun Bowl victory over Stanford. He still missed the Kansas game, but wasn’t exactly needed in that one and sat out as more of a precautionary thing.
So now we arrive at Murray’s senior season and frankly, the pressure for him to perform is much greater now than it ever has been, in large part to how highly touted he was coming out of high school.
Christ Brown is gone, so the rushing attack falls squarely on the broad shoulders of Murray. That’s exciting to some, but the question that has come up a lot is whether or not he can handle being an every down back and being the feature back in the Sooners’ offense.
Murray has also had to answer questions about his health and whether or not he is a fragile person. He has missed all or part of six games in his career, and three of them have been huge, including a BCS bowl and a national championship game.
Murray insists that he is healthier than he has been since before he was injured before his freshman year, but unfortunately for him, that’s something that can only be proven on the field.
He wasn’t able to show that in the spring, as he was held out of the spring game as a precaution. Things like this certainly don’t help his argument that injuries won’t be a problem for him in 2010.
There is no question in my mind that Murray has become a more developed and complete back during his time at OU. One can simply look at the fact that he has become and excellent receiver out of the backfield to see this.
However, I don’t think Murray has lived up to his full potential yet.
He has shown many pieces of the great player that he is and could be every year he has been in Norman—electrifying playmaker in 2007, resilient in 2008, well-rounded in 2009—but he has yet to truly combine them all into one package.
Can you imagine a DeMarco Murray that plays every down and consistently is making plays like he did in 2007, whether it is on the ground, through the air, or on special teams?
Well, that’s the DeMarco Murray many Sooner fans thought they were getting when he came to Norman.
Murray’s best year as a college player was definitely 2008, but it was devoid of the spectacular plays that made him a household name as a freshman. However, by becoming a threat catching the ball, he became more of a consistent threat for the offense.
Murray needs to stay healthy in 2010 because of how much versatility he brings to the Sooners offense and the attention he draws from defenses. He has speed, power, and hands that always have to be accounted for by opponents.
Oklahoma brought DeMarco Murray to Norman to make plays and make plays he has. However, there is still room to combine all parts of his game to make himself downright scary.
If Murray is able to combine the electrifying dynamics of his freshman year with the tough, well-rounded back he has become the past two years, he WILL be the best running back in the Big 12, if not the country.
That’s a big if, though.