Utah Utes football: Tight end Jake Murphy makes offense more potent

Published: Thursday, Nov. 21 2013 5:25 p.m. MST

Utah's Jake Murphy runs into the end zone for a touchdown as Utah and Oregon play Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 in Eugene.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It didn’t take long for Jake Murphy to re-establish himself in Utah’s offense. In the second quarter of his unexpectedly early return from a broken wrist, the junior made a 34-yard touchdown reception against sixth-ranked Oregon.

“It felt good. I mean it was just a lot of fun to get out there with my teammates and run around,” Murphy said. “Even though we lost it still feels good to be back on the field.”

Murphy, who was expected to miss the rest of the season after suffering the injury in the Oct. 3 loss to UCLA, has returned to the Utes at a critical time. After the 44-21 loss to the Ducks in Eugene, they need wins at Washington State on Saturday and at home against Colorado next week in order to be bowl eligible. They’ve lost four straight games and will be without starting quarterback Travis Wilson for the rest of the season.

Murphy is hopeful he can provide some vocal leadership down the stretch. The biggest thing, he said, is to not let the Utes get down on themselves — keep everyone fighting and being tough.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham notes that Murphy’s return has been a positive in many ways. Besides leadership and other intangibles, it’s also re-established a key element to the offense lost when Murphy and fellow tight end Westlee Tonga went down with injuries.

“It’s a big plus for us. All through spring and all through fall camp the tight end position was featured and when we lost those two guys we had to do a complete 180 and head in a different direction,” Whittingham said. “Now that we’ve gotten Jake back, that’s allowing us to do a lot of the things that we were doing earlier on.”

Whittingham declined to say it makes Utah a different team to have Murphy back in the mix.

“But it certainly gives us another different weapon and makes us more potent on offense,” he said as Adam Schulz prepares to make his second consecutive start at quarterback.

Murphy, though, isn’t 100 percent. He’s playing with what Whittingham has called “some kind of apparatus” to protect his wrist. Even so, the son of former baseball great Dale Murphy did make two catches against Oregon.

Jake Murphy’s background with America’s pastime has paid dividends with this particular injury. He has quite a knack for making one-handed catches.

“Baseball helped me a lot with my hand-eye coordination,” Murphy said. “I grew up playing infield and shortstop, so fielding all those ground balls helped me with my hands — and quick hands — and I definitely think played a big role with football.”

Whittingham, however, favors the fundamentals when it comes to catching the ball. Despite the protection Murphy has on his surgically repaired wrist, he said there’s enough movement and function for him to utilize it on receptions.

“He’s got to get rid of those one-handed things. There was too many of those in practice today. I talked to him after practice about that,” Whittingham said earlier this week. “That’s great when that’s the only option but you don’t want to get in the habit of just sticking one hand out there.

“I don’t know if the baseball thing has anything to do with that or not,” he added. “But he’s got very sure hands, I know that.”

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

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