Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray
ATHENS, Ga. — The preseason prognosis for Georgia’s offense was simple.
If redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray could fit in with 10 returning starters, the Bulldogs would be hard to stop. That was before star receiver A.J. Green got suspended four games for violating NCAA rules, before the line started underachieving and before tailbacks Washaun Ealey and Caleb King were plagued by fumbles.
That was also before Murray turned out to be quite competent, turning all those preseason inklings upside down.
“It has really surprised me to have a young guy come in like this, step into a leadership role and just take off with it,” receiver Tavarres King said Tuesday. “He’s been awesome, and I hope he continues to progress tremendously from week to week. He hasn’t made the same mistake twice. I’m extremely excited about where he’s going.”
Georgia’s biggest question mark several weeks ago is now third in the Southeastern Conference with 220 passing yards per game, trailing Ryan Mallett of Arkansas (359.5) and Kentucky’s Mike Hartline (244.4). Entering this week’s game against Tennessee, the 6-foot-1, 209-pounder has completed 80 of 132 passes (60.6 percent) for 1,100 yards, with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
Yet Murray also is the first Bulldogs quarterback to start in four consecutive losses since Larry Rakestraw in 1963.
“In the end, that’s all that matters,” Murray said. “I’ll throw 30 picks if it means we would go undefeated. Stats don’t mean a thing. The only stat that matters is that win-loss column, and that’s the only thing I’m worried about right now. I’m not worried about how many touchdowns I throw.
“I want to do whatever it takes to win — rushing, passing, whatever.”
The four losses this year top the three Murray endured as the starter at Plant High in Tampa.
Coach Mark Richt is pleased with the development of Murray, who has completed more than 50 percent of his attempts in every game and has had a completion of 40 yards or longer each week as well. Take away 81 yards in sacks, and Murray’s 162 rushing yards would challenge Ealey (213) and King (170) for the team lead.
“He’s making decisions that are very wise so far,” Richt said. “He’s made very good decisions on not throwing the ball up for grabs, and I think his ability to run is even better than I thought it would be. I knew he was a good athlete, but I didn’t know he would be able to make that many plays.
“There are times when he needs to get to his second receiver a little bit quicker, but considering he’s a first-year starter and a freshman, he has done very well. I’ve been pretty proud of him.”
Green came back from suspension last week and had seven receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the loss at Colorado. King had Georgia’s first 100-yard rushing game against the Buffaloes, and the line had its moments before getting blown up on King’s fumble.
The line was considered the team’s biggest strength behind Green before the season, but it has been the last offensive area to come around.
“I’d say across the board we just haven’t been good enough,” Richt said. “There have been some bright spots. There have been some good things that have happened, but we just haven’t done it good enough as a team, so I don’t really want to single out the O-line because they’re in the same boat everybody else is in, in my opinion.”
Everybody, it seems, except Murray, whose play has been surprisingly solid.
“I would say he’s done an incredible job,” receiver Kris Durham said. “He’s put us in great position. He’s put together drives where we had the opportunity to score touchdowns. You can’t say anything but positive things about his season so far.”
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 ...