MARK OF MURRAY
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is the SEC's all-time leader in four major categories:
Passing yards (12,983)
Total yards (13,348)
Passing touchdowns (117)
ATHENS, Ga. — South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier was marveling earlier this week about the finish of last Saturday's Auburn-Georgia game, but he was equally amazed by the performance of Bulldogs senior quarterback Aaron Murray.
"Aaron Murray is one of the best passers to ever play in the SEC," Spurrier said. "For him to bring those guys back and take the lead there -- it's just impressive what he does."
The holder of four career conference records, Murray will quarterback at Sanford Stadium for the final time Saturday night when the Bulldogs (6-4, 4-3) host Kentucky (2-8, 0-6). The 6-foot-1, 208-pounder from Tampa, Fla., became the league's all-time passing leader during the Tennessee game, the total offense leader against Vanderbilt, the passing touchdowns leader against Appalachian State and the career leader in completions last week.
Murray still has games at Georgia Tech next week and in an undetermined bowl, but he already has shaped a legacy that is appreciated by those outside and especially inside Georgia's program.
"It's a legacy of hard work and how hard work can lead to success," Bulldogs leading receiver Chris Conley said. "Everybody wants to talk about God-gifted talent, and he has a lot of that, but he's also worked extremely hard. He's added a tremendous amount of value to his name this season, and a lot of respect to it as well.
"I hope the NFL scouts will realize that he's been an extremely dependable guy and unselfish in so many ways."
After coming up 5 yards short in last December's 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game, Murray threw for 427 yards and five touchdowns in a Capital One Bowl win over Nebraska. Within a week of dismantling the Cornhuskers, clinching the third 12-win season in Georgia history, Murray announced that he would come back for his senior year.
His return was the biggest reason Georgia had a No. 5 preseason ranking, and it countered the Bulldogs losing 12 defensive regulars from last year's team, including first-round NFL picks Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. Murray said throughout the offseason that breaking SEC records meant nothing compared to the competitive enjoyment of playing with his Bulldogs teammates, and he has shown that repeatedly.
Against South Carolina, Murray threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns as the Bulldogs snapped a three-year losing streak in the series. Against LSU, he dueled former roommate Zach Mettenberger and threw four TD passes again in a 44-41 victory. He engineered a 10-play, 75-yard drive in the final two minutes at Tennessee to send that game into overtime -- the Bulldogs eventually won 34-31 -- and he became the first Georgia quarterback since Buck Belue to defeat Florida three straight times.
"I have no regrets," Murray said. "I've really enjoyed this season and being with my teammates and playing in all these great games. It's been a lot of fun. We've played in some huge games this year, and we've had some huge wins. We've had a lot of really fun games that I will remember for a long time."
His most memorable performance, though it didn't result in a victory, may have occurred last week.
Trailing Auburn 37-17 early in the fourth quarter, Murray guided the Bulldogs to three touchdowns, scoring the third one himself on a 5-yard carry on fourth-and-goal. That gave the Bulldogs a 38-37 lead, and even after Auburn's miraculous 73-yard scoring connection on a fourth-and-18 with 25 seconds remaining, Murray quickly rocketed the Bulldogs to the Auburn 20-yard line before time expired.
"I'm going to look back at this game, ask them for a copy of the DVD and just tell them to cut it after my touchdown run and just end it right there," Murray said. "It was an awesome game, and it was the largest deficit Georgia has ever come back from in the fourth quarter. So that's something to be proud of."
Murray's legacy also will include his 34-17 record as a starter. A 6-7 record as a redshirt freshman, when star receiver A.J. Green served a four-game suspension, and this year's injury-plagued 6-4 season prevented him from matching the win percentages of predecessors David Greene and Matthew Stafford.
SEC East titles in 2011 and last year will be forever linked with Murray, but he could not deliver the program's first league championship since 2005 or its first national title since 1980.
"Aaron has been awesome," tailback Todd Gurley said. "To be here for as long as he's been here and to do so much for this team and the university -- it's going to be hard to replace him next year. He's definitely the best quarterback in SEC history. The stats say it all.
"Sometimes the best don't get championships, especially in college football where you lose one game and it's kind of over."
In the four games Georgia has played this season against teams that were ranked in the top 10, Murray has averaged 336 passing yards and led the Bulldogs to a 2-2 split.
"It's been a rocky season, but I've enjoyed every single moment of it and every single game," Murray said. "If you go out there and complain and feel sorry for yourself that we're not going to be able to play in Atlanta or Pasadena, then it's pointless to go out there and play. We still get to go out there and play more games, and at the end of the day we all know that we're extremely blessed."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 ...