ATHENS, Ga. — As a touted Tampa high-school quarterback, Aaron Murray didn't know much about Georgia's rivalries when he signed with the Bulldogs, other than their annual showdown with Florida in Jacksonville.
Murray was baptized into the Auburn rivalry when he played at Jordan-Hare Stadium as a redshirt freshman in 2010, a game the Bulldogs lost 49-31. He endured a painful late hit from Tigers defensive tackle Nick Fairley in the third quarter, and the last five minutes of that game contained four personal-foul penalties, leading Georgia coach Mark Richt to have his quarterback take a knee on the final play.
"I had learned that it was the South's oldest rivalry," Murray said this week, "but after that game and a couple of those hits, I was like, 'All right, I don't like Auburn anymore.' Now I understand what it's all about.
"It's an intense game that is right up there with Georgia-Georgia Tech and Georgia-Florida and us and South Carolina. It means a lot."
While beating Florida may mean more to Murray given his background, he consistently has performed better against Auburn than any other opponent.
In three career games against the Tigers, Murray has completed 47 of 70 passes (67.1 percent) for 705 yards with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. He has thrown at least one interception against every other SEC team he has faced, including seven in his first three matchups against the Gators.
"He gets excited to play this game," Bulldogs senior receiver Rhett McGowan said. "I don't know what it is about it, but even his first year playing against them, he and A.J. [Green] connected early a couple of times for two big touchdowns. He's done it ever since, and the past two years have really been good for us offensively. We've gotten on the board early and often."
Said Murray: "I don't know what it is, but hopefully it continues this Saturday. We know that if we do our thing and prepare hard and understand the game plan, we feel like we can put points up on anyone we play."
Murray connected with Green on 31- and 40-yard touchdowns and had a 9-yard scoring pass to fullback Shaun Chapas in the first quarter of the 2010 game, staking Georgia to a 21-7 lead. In the 2011 matchup at Sanford Stadium, he was 13-of-16 for 216 yards and four touchdowns in the first half of Georgia's eventual 45-7 blowout.
It was just as easy for Murray last year, whose three first-half scoring passes helped give the Bulldogs a 28-0 lead on their way to a 38-0 triumph.
"He's good at everything he does," said Tigers coach Gus Malzahn, who was Auburn's offensive coordinator in the 2010 and 2011 meetings against Murray. "He can hurt you in the pass game. He's a veteran guy, and he's pretty fast when he takes off. He knows how to run an offense.
"He's one of the better quarterbacks to have ever played in this league, and I think that says it all."
Murray is already the SEC's all-time leader in total offense, passing offense and passing touchdowns, having accomplished that last feat in last week's win over Appalachian State. Saturday, he can become the first SEC quarterback to beat the Tigers in Auburn two consecutive years.
Georgia is having to play at Auburn two straight years due to a scheduling quirk that resulted from the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M.
"I think Aaron usually plays well all the time," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "Being a fifth-year senior, I think the comfort level of playing in other people's stadiums is going to be a factor. He's got to play comfortable, and he's got to play loose.
"I expect Aaron to play well Saturday."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
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 ...