ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia came up short against Florida last Saturday, but redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray and sophomore tight end Orson Charles no longer get ribbed by Bulldogs coaches.
The two former teammates at Tampa's Plant High connected six times in the 34-31 overtime loss for 108 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. The receptions and yardage were career highs for Charles, who had 10 catches through Georgia's first eight games.
"Coaches have joked a lot about 'Where has that connection been from you guys in high school?'" Murray said. "It was nice to finally get a great game with him. He's had a tremendous year all year. When he's had his opportunities, he's made plays, and he's done a tremendous job in the blocking game. Even though he doesn't have tons of stats, he continues to get better every week."
Charles didn't have the only 100-yard receiving game last week, as redshirt sophomore split end Tavarres King had three catches for 104 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown. Both players benefited from the Gators focusing on junior flanker A.J. Green, and they may have provided an early glimpse at what next season could look like.
Green was recently rated by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper as the No. 2 prospect in the 2011 NFL draft, should he decide to leave after this season.
"One thing we pride ourselves on as a receiving unit is depth and having guys who can step in and make plays, and I feel like we would have that if A.J. decides to go," King said. "It will be interesting to see how that works out. I think me and 'O' could really benefit each other from outside in and inside out."
Said Green: "T.K. would step up and be a great leader if I decided to leave. With Orson, he's a young tight end, but you saw what he did on Saturday."
Last Saturday was the first time Georgia had two 100-yard receivers in the same game since a 31-30 loss to Auburn in 2005. In that contest, D.J. Shockley threw for 108 yards to receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and 102 to tight end Leonard Pope.
Charles has emerged as Georgia's best tight end since Pope, who was a third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2006. Whereas Pope was gargantuan at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, Charles has plenty of size at 6-3 and 240, as well as a quality skill set.
"Orson is very strong, and he's got good speed," coach Mark Richt said. "He can really snatch a ball like a receiver snatches a ball. With some tight ends, you feel like you better throw it right on his body or he's not going to be able to get a ball, or he's not going to be able to snatch a ball out of his body, but he can catch it just about anywhere.
"I've seen him dig it off the shoelace. I've seen him jump and turn. I've seen him do what receivers can do as far as catching the ball."
Charles realizes he could be a top target for opposing defenses next season, but he is quick to point out that "we would never have another A.J. Green." He came on late last season as a freshman, making four catches for 73 yards in the 11th game against Kentucky and earning starts the next two games against Georgia Tech and Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo believes Charles has taken off the past two weeks, when he quit worrying about how many balls were coming his way and ratcheted up his energy level.
"I'm not thinking as much as I did earlier in the year," Charles said. "I know the playbook better, so I'm just going out there and playing. My blocking is way better than it was."
Bobo said Charles is still young but has shown the potential to be "one of the best that's ever played here at that position."
Fifth-year senior receiver Kris Durham agrees that Charles is a budding star. He's seen enough to know.
"When I first got here, it was Mohamed," Durham said. "Then A.J. came along. Now Orson has definitely stepped up and become a playmaker."