published Sunday, August 28th, 2011

UGA: Veteran Aaron Murray wears battle scars

Georgia QB Aaron Murray. (Contributed Photo By Paul Abell)

DAZZLING DEBUT

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (right) had a freshman season that was among the most efficient in school history. Here are the highest single-season pass efficiency numbers for the Bulldogs:

1. Mike Bobo (1997) 155.80

2. Aaron Murray (2010) 154.48

3. Matthew Stafford (2008) 153.54

4. Matt Robinson (1974) 150.07

5. David Greene (2004) 148.39

ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray will sport a new look this season, and it has nothing to do with those Nike combat uniforms the Bulldogs are wearing in their Sept. 3 opener against Boise State.

Along with the 3,049 passing yards and 24 aerial touchdowns Murray accrued a year ago, he also added two scars under his chin.

“This one is from the Arkansas game,” Murray said in a proud display of battle wounds, “and this one is from [former Auburn defensive tackle] Nick Fairley.”

Murray was not short-changed in his Southeastern Conference freshman experience. The 6-foot-1, 211-pounder from Tampa became the second most prolific freshman passer in league history and tied D.J. Shockley for the school’s single-season mark in touchdowns responsible with 28.

Georgia scored 30 or more points in a program-record seven consecutive games, a streak that began with the 41-14 win over Tennessee and extended through the 42-34 win over Georgia Tech before ending in a 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl. Murray threw two interceptions against UCF and had three in an overtime loss to Florida, but he had eight games in which he didn’t get picked off.

So what can he do for an encore?

Win more games, for starters, as last season’s Bulldogs wound up 6-7 and did not defeat a team that finished with a winning record. More specifically, have a little more trust in the folks up front.

“I think Murray will make more plays from the pocket than he maybe made a year ago,” coach Mark Richt said. “He’ll be more apt to stand in there and throw it instead of taking off and making something happen with his wheels.”

Murray’s rushing ability last season won fans over before his coaches. In the 55-7 opening rout of Louisiana-Lafayette, Murray scrambled for a 16-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half with his team out of timeouts.

After the game, Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo cautioned Murray about time management and said a similar decision could backfire down the road.

Yet nobody wearing the red and black inside Sanford Stadium was disappointed midway through the first quarter against Tennessee when Murray scrambled and found a seam down the right sideline for a 35-yard score.

His scrambling all but evaporated after that run, as his final six games produced a net of 9 rushing yards. While that aspect of his game was dwindling, Murray completed more than 70 percent of his passes in three of his last six games, something he had not accomplished once in the first half of the season.

“The comfort level definitely increased as last season went on,” Murray said. “You get up to the line of scrimmage and hike the ball, and there are guys flying around everywhere. The speed and the size of the guys kind of boggles your mind, so you’re getting rid of the ball so you don’t get killed.

“You really have to trust the guys up front and that they know what they’re doing. They’ve put in the time and effort to understand their responsibilities.”

Murray said his patience in the pocket grew late last season along with his understanding of the playbook and his understanding of progressions. Richt believes Murray will recognize things more quickly as a sophomore and will throw even more routes on time.

That was a problem early last year, most notably in the 17-6 loss at South Carolina when Kris Durham had to hold up for a 55-yard reception that should have gone for a score. It was not an issue down the stretch.

“I think his accuracy will improve because of his comfort level in what we’re doing,” Richt said. “He’s already improved in that everybody believes in the guy. I think everybody wanted to believe in him last year and saw good signs of things to believe in, but now there is no question in their mind that he’s the leader of the team.”

Murray’s teammates are certainly eager to see the show.

“The game has really slowed down for him,” junior tight end Orson Charles said. “He’s going to know what defenses are being thrown at us.”

about David Paschall...

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 ...

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