ATHENS, Ga. — Aaron Murray has made 20 career starts as Georgia's quarterback, and one of them clearly is his least favorite.
"The Florida game was the toughest to swallow," Murray said Tuesday, painfully reflecting about last season's 34-31 overtime loss to the Gators. "We were so close to winning that game, and it could have skyrocketed us through the rest of the season."
Murray threw only six interceptions during the 2010 regular season, yet three came against Florida. He was picked off on the first play from scrimmage by cornerback Janoris Jenkins, but the biggest miscue of his redshirt freshman year occurred in overtime when a third-and-9 attempt from Florida's 24-yard line was intercepted by safety Will Hill.
That halted Georgia's comeback from a 21-7 deficit, and it enabled Florida to go conservative with its overtime possession before winning the game on a 37-yard Chas Henry field goal.
"There were a lot of nerves, jitters and butterflies," Murray said. "I didn't start off the way I wanted to, but we pushed through and had an unbelievable second half. I think I've definitely matured since then, and I understand what it's going to be like."
The 6-foot-1, 211-pounder from Tampa did throw for a season-high 313 yards against the Gators, but it remains the only game in which he has failed to complete 50 percent of his attempts. He went 18-of-37.
Georgia and Florida both had open dates last week, and Murray said he used that time to get the game plan down earlier than usual and to be better prepared mentally. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt is having conversations with Murray this week, but not about last year's game or the fact the Gators have won 18 of the past 21 meetings.
"I think the less said the better," Richt said. "We're trying to focus real hard on not the fact that it's in Jacksonville and not the fact that it's even Florida. We're looking at the team we're playing as far as their personnel and their scheme. If you are a quarterback, what's really important? It's not important if it's in Jacksonville.
"It's important to know what jersey numbers they wear and what positions they play and what types of tendencies they have in the red zone or third down. Those are the things we are focusing on, not so much that it's his home-state team. I want him to focus on what's going to help him win when the ball is snapped."
Murray took a break from preparation last Saturday when he, receiver Marlon Brown and tight end Arthur Lynch attended Florida State's 41-16 victory over Maryland in Tallahassee. Murray admitted to performing the Tomahawk Chop a time or two in cheering on the Seminoles, and a picture of him posing in an FSU T-shirt alongside a shirtless man has been making the rounds on SEC websites.
Each is holding a beer can in the picture -- Murray turns 21 in a couple of weeks -- but the quarterback is more embarrassed by "the shirtless dude" and the FSU shirt.
"That probably wasn't the smartest thing to do in the world," Murray said. "It wasn't the smartest move. At least I wasn't being stupid, so that's a good thing."
Murray expects to be smarter and better in his second go-round against the Gators. He insists his team is not looking at the past -- "It's not like we've lost those 18 games," he said -- and that this week's game has been circled since the offseason.
When Saturday afternoon's game rolls around, Murray hopes it soon will develop into his career favorite.
"To be able to beat Florida would be an awesome feeling," he said. "I'm looking forward to it. I've been looking forward to it ever since we played them last year."
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 ...