Georgia freshman quarterback Aaron Murray (11) looks at referees after scoring a touchdown during the game against Tennessee on Saturday. Georgia won 41-14.Staff Photo by Patrick Smith
ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia football coach Mark Richt has overseen two proficient redshirt freshman quarterbacks during his 10 seasons with the Bulldogs and was asked this past week to compare the two.
Richt said David Greene, who made his debut in 2001, produced a better overall record and that Aaron Murray, the current starter, has enjoyed a superior statistical year. Greene went on to amass 42 career victories for an NCAA record that stood for several seasons, but he doesn’t believe a comparison is necessary.
“In my opinion, Aaron played the quarterback position better than any freshman I’ve seen that I can remember in a long, long time,” Greene said. “My situation was different. I didn’t have to go out there and win games. I just had to go out there and play football.
“He had to go out there and score 30 points a game a number of times just to assure who would win.”
Murray, who began spring practice vying with Logan Gray and Zach Mettenberger for the starting role, has set numerous Georgia freshman records entering the New Year’s Eve date against Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl and has several single-season program marks well within reach. The 6-foot-1, 209-pounder from Tampa is the No. 9 quarterback nationally in pass efficiency with a 162.7 rating and can set Georgia’s single-season standard in that category with just a mediocre performance against the Knights.
Mike Bobo, Georgia’s offensive coordinator, holds the program record with a 155.8 rating set in 1997.
Murray has completed 188 of 304 passes (61.8 percent) for 2,851 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions to earn a spot on the Southeastern Conference’s All-Freshman team. Greene was the SEC All-Freshman quarterback in ’01 after completing 192 of 324 passes (59.3 percent) for 2,789 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“My main goal all year was just to continue getting better week by week,” Murray said. “I definitely felt like I made strides — the knowledge of the playbook, my footwork, my knowledge of the defenses and my preparation heading into each week. I feel like I made strides, but there is a long way to go.”
WASTING NO TIME
Redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray is putting his stamp on Georgia’s record book entering the Liberty Bowl on New Year’s Eve:
• Murray has 28 total touchdowns, 24 passing and four rushing, which ties him with D.J. Shockley (2005) for Georgia’s single-season standard.
• He needs one touchdown pass to match the 25 that Matthew Stafford threw in 2008 to set the school’s single-season mark.
• His efficiency rating of 162.73 this season is ahead of the 155.8 school-record rating Mike Bobo set in 1997.
• He already holds Georgia’s freshman passing record with 2,851 yards, which ranks second all-time in SEC annals.
Richt continually has credited Greene for being studious in the film room, writing down all the information and then mastering the progressions during practices and games. He has seen the same characteristics and desire in Murray, who often looks to Greene for advice.
It is not uncommon for Murray and Greene to exchange several text messages a week.
“The approach to the game, I think, is the thing that is the most similar about them, and I think another thing is they had the respect of their teammates at a very young age,” Richt said. “Both of them have that. They have a little bit different style and a little different stature. Murray is a little more athletic than David was, but David had the height advantage and that type of thing.
“They’re both just great guys, guys that you as a coach have a lot of confidence to allow them to be the leader of your team.”
Georgia went 8-4 during Greene’s first season, stunning Tennessee 26-24 in Knoxville on a late touchdown pass to fullback Verron Haynes and ending a three-year losing streak to Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs are 6-6 this season, with Murray suffering half of his six interceptions in a 34-31 overtime loss to Florida.
Murray also threw three touchdowns against the Gators and has thrown for three scores in every game since.
“Aaron may have shocked the coaches a little, because when you go back to the start of the season, they were pretty conservative and didn’t try to give him too much,” Greene said. “By the end of the year it was pretty much on his shoulders. He managed games extremely well, made some tough, gutsy runs, and I thought he had a really gutsy performance at Auburn. On fourth-and-1, he threw that touchdown pass to A.J. Green on the money.
“I thought he would be a good player, but I didn’t think he would be as far along as he is this early.”
Greene’s four seasons as Georgia’s starter coincided with the four years the Bulldogs thrived under former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Georgia allowed 30 or more points once under VanGorder, and that was to LSU in 2003 when Nick Saban’s Tigers were on their way to a national championship.
The Bulldogs have allowed 30 or more points five times this season and gave up 29 in an inexplicable loss at Colorado. They enter the Liberty Bowl having scored 30 or more points a program-record seven straight times, yet they are 5-2 in those games.
Hence Greene’s reasoning why Murray is dealing with far more pressure to produce.
“I never felt like that,” Greene said. “The best thing you can have as a quarterback is a great defense. When I was at Georgia, I just had to manage the game, protect the ball and make the plays when they had to be made. When we played at Auburn in ’02, we were horrible offensively, but our defense kept us in that game. Nobody would be talking about the pass to Michael Johnson if our defense didn’t force so many three-and-outs.
“Aaron has had to be pretty efficient, and he was.”
When asked what he is most proud of this season, Murray said it was Georgia’s refusal to give up after a 1-4 start, but he may have to carry an even larger load next season.
Green, the team’s leading receiver, is expected to skip his senior season and be a top-five pick in April’s NFL draft, while second-leading receiver Kris Durham is a senior. The offensive line contains two senior starters and three junior starters, two of whom are pondering early departures.
Murray may have some doubters in 2011, but none on his campus.
“The guy has created such good habits that I think he’ll have pretty similar numbers in the future, if not better,” Richt said.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...