ORLANDO – One year after a long punt return helped cost them a bowl victory, the Gophers will face one of the top returners in the nation in Thursday's Citrus Bowl.
Missouri's Marcus Murphy was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Year after returning one punt and two kickoffs for touchdowns. The senior also scored five touchdowns as a tailback and rushed for 767 yards.
"It's a major concern," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said of Murphy's playmaking ability.
In the 2013 Texas Bowl, the Gophers were wallowing in a streak of 13 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown and trailed Syracuse 14-3. Mitch Leidner, who had replaced Philip Nelson, tossed touchdown passes to Maxx Williams (20 yards) and Drew Wolitarsky (55 yards) to give the Gophers a 17-14 fourth-quarter lead.
The Gophers had a chance to run out the clock, but a penalty forced them to punt with 2 minutes, 3 seconds left. Peter Mortell launched a 57-yard punt — seemingly a good thing — but Brisly Estime returned it 70 yards before Mortell tackled him at the 14. Moments later, quarterback Terrel Hunt scored on a 12-yard run, giving Syracuse a 21-17 victory.
Asked about that punt return Wednesday, Kill said, "I'm trying to forget those things."
But look for Mortell and kicker Ryan Santoso to avoid Murphy as much as possible Thursday.
The all-maroon look
The Gophers will don maroon helmets, jerseys and pants — all-maroon, all the time. They wore the all-maroon's one other game this season, beating San Jose State in September at home.
Lauer won't play
Kill said offensive tackle Ben Lauer, who has had mono, returned to practice this week but won't play. Jonah Pirsig will make his fifth consecutive start at right tackle. Not having Lauer will test the Gophers' depth.
Besides Lauer, the Gophers don't have any other players on the injury report except for players who've been previously ruled out for the season.
Time in Orlando
Missouri has been in Orlando since Dec. 22, while the Gophers arrived Christmas Day.
The Gophers considered coming down earlier, but Kill consulted with other coaches and with several players. He decided to give everyone a three-day break to celebrate the holiday before flying to Florida.
"I wanted to go [to Orlando] a little bit earlier just because there's so many great things to do, and I wanted our players to have a great experience here," Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. "There's also some belief that if you can get down a little bit earlier, it kind of gets old a little bit at the end, and you could focus up a little bit better.
"That'll be evaluated after the game's over with."