October 25, 2012

Can Murray get over hump?

Another game against a ranked team, another round of questions for Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray about winning "the big one."

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately for Murray, who goes into Saturday's game against third-ranked Florida as the Bulldogs' career leader in touchdown passes with 75, it's the kind of talk he's had to endure - much to his chagrin.

"I just ignore it. I don't even think about it. It's a team game," Murray said. "I'm not playing Florida or any top team by myself. I've just got to go out, execute, have fun and play ball."

Fair or unfair, here's how the numbers break down.

In Murray's two-plus years as the Bulldogs' starting quarterback he has faced 11 teams - which at the time they played Georgia - were ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

His record during that time - 2-9, with both victories coming last year over then No. 24 Auburn and No. 25 Georgia Tech. Against opponents ranked in the Top 12 or higher, Murray is 0-6.

But while the media and many fans continue to harp on those numbers, Murray - to his credit - prefers to focus on the task that lies ahead Saturday at Everbank Field (3:30, CBS) and not dwell on the past.

"My thoughts this week are relax, stay positive, have fun and let it rip," Murray said. "There have been times when I've gone out and tried to be too perfect or too cautious, too worried about throwing an interception. My goal this week is to trust in my ability, trust in my preparation, then go out there and let it fly."

Head coach Mark Richt concedes Murray will have to be at his peak to win a game like this.

In his two previous starts against the Gators, the Tampa native has completed 33-of-71 passes for 482 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions. The Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1) are 1-1 in those games.

"I think just about everybody's quarterback has to play pretty good to win a game like this, but Aaron in particular. He's just been so valuable to us to get us into the right play as many times as possible in games," Richt said. "We do give him options at the line of scrimmage to try to give us the best chance of success, so that's huge for him, and I think that the way he studies the game and just historically he's done a very good job of that at this point in his career."

But the Gators (7-0, 5-0) promise to provide another stern test.

Florida, like South Carolina, is one of the league's top defenses - No. 3 to be exact, giving up just 282 yards of offense per game. The Gators are also third in the conference with a turnover ratio of plus 11.

"I think that Aaron's got to do a good job of just making decisions back there when he drops back and reads coverage. He's got to stay with his progression and not try to go off the beaten path in any way," Richt said. "You know, there's going to be some situations with a defense like this that somebody's not going to be open or the protection may not be as good as you want, but how are you going to manage that? Are you going to manage it by throwing it away and not taking a sack, or do you have to take a sack, or are you going to wrap it up where the ball doesn't come out? That's really what it comes down to."

An effective running game would no doubt help Georgia's cause.

After getting off to fast starts, freshman running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have combined for just 146 yards in Georgia's games against the Gamecocks and Kentucky last week in Lexington.

"It was a little bit of execution against South Carolina and a little bit of us getting whipped, getting down and getting away from the running game," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "I think this past week it was a little bit about what their defense was doing. They made a commitment to stop the run. We knew it was going to be tough. We thought maybe we could pop a run here and there, but never popped any long runs and had more success in the air."

You might say that.

Murray enjoyed a career day against the Wildcats, completing a personal best 30 passes for a best-ever 427 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs to their 29-24 win.

Still, Murray would like to see a bit more balance added to Georgia's game.

"We're not doing everything we need to do. We need to figure out some things offensively to better ourselves in the run game because we do want to be balanced. We do want to be a very balanced team when it comes to running, passing and being able to use our play-action based off our run game," he said. "We don't want to get away from that. We know we need to establish the run, that's a big key for us, to establish it early against Florida."

Richt said Murray will have the freedom to do whatever he wants to help the Bulldogs be successful.

"There will be times when he'll move out of the pocket, I'm sure," Richt said. "He'll be in a situation where he's scrambling, and will he keep his eyes downfield and find an open man or when he crosses the line of scrimmage will he do a good job of not taking a vicious hit if he can help it and protecting the ball as he gets tackled? Those are just the fundamental things that he has to do well."