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Minnesota Football - 2014 Players to Watch: Can Eric Murray make the leap to All-B1G?

In anticipation of the 2014 college football season, contributor Elliot Mann takes a look at a few players who we are excited to see take the field for the Maroon and Gold this year. We start our list with Gopher cornerback Eric Murray, who could make an All-Conference leap in 2014.

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Murray | CB | Junior | 6'0" 195 lbs. 
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In his second year of collegiate football and first of playing significant time, Eric Murray blossomed into one of the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten conference. That's not the hometown rube take. That praise comes from the Gopher coaching staff, Big Ten coaches and writers, as well as from the stats that Big Ten receivers didn’t amass while being shadowed by Murray during his sophomore season.

Murray will again play the boundary cornerback position for the Gopher defense this year. The Gophers’ Tracy Claeys typically splits his two cornerback positions by "field" and "boundary." The boundary corner is responsible for the short side of the field, thus playing more man-on-man coverage, allowing the safety on that side gets closer to the line of scrimmage through playing the run, blitzing, etc. The field corner has the larger amount of field to cover, but in the Gophers' scheme, the field safety helps out more in coverage.

When people are talking about a corner "being on an island," they are talking about how Murray was used in 2013's defensive scheme.

He's pretty much a man-to-man guy, and a lot of it's press-man. It's hard to get a lot of interceptions when you play as much press-man as he does," Gophers defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel told's Adam Rittenberg. "But we feel like he can get people stopped when we need to get 'em stopped."

As Rittenberg noted in his piece from last November, Murray slipped a bit under the radar. People typically grade defensive back play is looking at interceptions and, to a lesser extent, pass break-ups. There are of course huge limitations in doing so. In many cases. the better corners don’t get thrown at as much, unless coverage has completely broken down. (It would be better to look at the amount of receiving targets against a defensive back, and then review the rate of completed passes versus INTs and pass deflections, but that's a level of statistical specificity that isn't readily available.) In Murray's case, he thrives on press man-to-man coverage, challenging receivers when the ball is in the air; his 10 passes broken up ranked sixth in the conference, but he had no interceptions. The point remains: If teams are unwilling to challenge a cornerback or the CB has defender the receiver to the point that the quarterback can't throw to him, the CB won’t compile the counting stats that so many national writers look at when whipping up positional rankings that sometimes mention players who don’t actually exist.

After beating Penn State, former Gopher safety and current Chicago Bear Brock Vereen told the Post-Bulletin that Murray is one of college football's best players.

Rittenberg compiled a table that showed how well some of the Big Ten's best performed against Murray. The 6-foot, 195-pound junior stymied eventual second round NFL draft pick and Penn State receiver Allen Robinson last year, allowing only 18 yards to him. Robinson totaled 1,204 receiving yards in 2013. Likewise, Michigan's Jeremy Gallon totaled 1,062 yards receiving last year, but only 30 came against Murray.

Even though he's searching for his first INT, Murray's most memorable play last year came on a brilliant end zone interception that ended up erased by a neutral zone infraction. Against Penn State receiver Brandon Felder, Murray deflected the ball up in the air, tipped it up again over Felder, maneuvered around him and caught it. At the time, I noted that it was one of the best interceptions ever that wouldn't count. (You'll have to take my word, I can't find a clip of it. Plays negated by penalty aren't preserved so well online, although this Minnesota Daily photo does exist as does this video of the play, as linked by our commenters below. This item was edited to include the video. Scroll to the 49 second mark.)

Last November, Gopher head coach Jerry Kill raved about Murray to the Star Tribune, saying that NFL scouts on hand to watch Ra'Shede Hageman ended up asking for more information about Murray before leaving town. Murray delivered last year, cementing his spot on the field. At the end of the season, the coaches and media had taken note, naming him all-conference honorable mention.

This year, he could very well take the leap from Dinkytown standout to All-Big Ten.

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Elliot Mann is a Minnesota-based freelance writer who contributes to The Daily Gopher. Follow him on Twitter at