Photo By Steven Chapman

Critical 20: No. 6 Justin Murphy

Like any football team, Texas Tech has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue of experience, leadership, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially crucial. They may or not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they absent.

When freshman right guard Justin Murphy went down with a knee injury against Baylor in week five of the 2015 season, few observers reckoned the incident a devastating blow to the team. Few, if any, foresaw just how much Murphy’s absence would alter and diminish Texas Tech’s offense.

But the numbers do not lie. During the first five games of 2015 Texas Tech averaged 30 rushing attempts for 179 yards, averaging 5.97 yards per carry. Over the final seven games of the season the Red Raiders averaged 45 rushing attempts per game for 227 yards, equating to a yards-per-carry average of 5.04. 

Given Murphy’s reputation as a brutal run blocking guard, it may seem a puzzlement that Tech without Murphy would run the ball 15 more times per game than they did with Murphy. But the enigma evaporates upon seeing the following statistic: in Murphy’s five games the Red Raiders allowed only one sack. With Murphy on the pines Texas Tech surrendered 26!

Clearly then, Murphy’s absence damaged Tech’s pass protection even more than its running game. Because the line could no longer protect Pat Mahomes all that effectively, Kliff Kingsbury dialed up many more runs, even though the run game’s efficiency dipped by almost a full yard per carry with Murphy unable to go. 

Lest one disregard these numbers because of the presumed weakness of Tech’s opponents during the first five weeks of last season, bear in mind that the Red Raiders drew Arkansas, TCU and Baylor in three of those five weeks. A row of petunias this was not.

Fortunately, after several months of rehabilitation and workouts, Murphy and his knee are as good as new. The only possible issue will be knocking off the rust which surely accumulated during his long layoff, but by the time fall camp concludes, that too should be a thing of the past.

If Texas Tech gets a full year of a healthy Murphy, Texas Tech’s offensive line, which struggled some without him last season, may actually be better than last year’s unit despite the loss of Le’Raven Clark, Jared Kaster and Alfredo Morales. Murphy is that much of a difference-maker. 

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