ATHENS, Ga. — Yes, but who have you beaten?
It’s a question that has been posed to Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray entering Saturday night’s showdown in Neyland Stadium. The two sophomores are arguably the premier signal-callers in the Southeastern Conference, though their statistics to this point surpass their numbers of quality victories.
“I guess there really hasn’t been a marquee win,” Murray admitted earlier this week. “We definitely haven’t won enough for me.”
Murray was the overwhelming choice for preseason All-SEC quarterback after throwing for 3,049 yards last season with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Yet the Bulldogs went 6-7 last year with conference victories over Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, which were a combined 6-18 in league play.
Georgia’s two league wins this season have come against Ole Miss and Mississippi State, who are a combined 0-5 in the league.
Bray came off the bench during last season’s 41-14 loss to Georgia at Sanford Stadium, but he earned a starting role for the final four regular-season games against Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The Tigers wound up 1-11 a year ago, while the Rebels, Commodores and Wildcats finished a combined 4-20 in league games.
Tennessee has played one SEC game this season — losing 33-23 at Florida — so Bray’s biggest win to date might be the 45-23 whipping of Cincinnati on Sept. 10. The Big East’s Bearcats are 4-1.
“Everyone has their opinions,” Bray said last week before improving to 7-2 as a starter with a 41-10 thumping of Buffalo. “I’m not going to stay up at night and lose sleep over it. I’ll be fine.”
Bray’s individual numbers are beyond fine, as the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Californian leads the league with 332 passing yards a game and an efficiency rating of 176.1. He has thrown for 1,328 yards with 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions, and he engineers an offense that is tied for first nationally with a 62.1-percent conversion rate on third downs.
Murray is third in the SEC in efficiency behind Bray and Tyler Wilson of Arkansas with a 152.8 rating, which is slightly behind his 154.5 clip from last season. He is coming off a three-interception game against Mississippi State and has six pickoffs through five games after throwing just three in the first eight games a year ago.
“I think I’m better this season in just the knowledge of the offense and being able to check plays and declare protections and get everyone in the right situation,” Murray said. “There have just been a couple of times where I have not been as accurate as I need to be, and that’s what causes interceptions. I feel fine throwing the ball.
“We’re winning more, so that’s definitely better. We were 1-4 this time last year.”
Though neither Georgia nor Tennessee is ranked, both sides feel a victory Saturday would qualify as significant. The Vols could improve to 4-1 overall, which would put them in the Top 25 or get them close, while the Bulldogs are seeking a fourth consecutive win after two opening losses that could get them back in the national rankings as well.
“I have talked to Aaron this week about playing a big-time game on the road,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “That’s what you come here for, to play in these kinds of games and win these games. He’s preparing hard for that, and it’s something he’s circled. This is definitely a big challenge for him.”
Said Murray: “This would be an awesome win, especially with the way we’ve played there the past two times and gotten our doors blown off.”
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 ...