The morning after: Murray blazes the path

semerson@macon.comSeptember 29, 2013 

It's not even October yet, and it still feels like Georgia has played a full season. So, after the long-feared opening four-game gauntlet is completed, here are some additional thoughts, and a couple notes:

- News note No. 1: Georgia moved up to No. 6 in both its AP and coaches' polls on Sunday.

- News note No. 2: The Georgia-Tennessee game on Saturday has been picked up by CBS for its 3:30 slot. The Missouri game time should be announced on Monday morning.

- Georgia will now be favored in all its remaining games, or at least you can project it that way now. Florida still sets up as the toughest game, but the Gators have had players dropping like flies, from their quarterback to their top defensive player. The trips to Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Auburn aren’t automatic either. If Georgia plays the way it has against South Carolina and LSU, it will roll into the SEC championship at 11-1 with another chance to make the national title game. But before booking your Atlanta hotel, I think this Mark Richt quote is quite accurate: “We had a barnburner against North Texas. … Every game's gonna be a barnburner until we get more stout on defense and continue to get our special teams in order."

- How much should Georgia be worried about its defense? It’s not at panic level yet. Keep in mind the offenses and quarterbacks it has faced: Tajh Boyd is a Heisman candidate, Zach Mettenberger is looking like a first-round pick, and Connor Shaw is pretty underrated. Georgia’s run defense looks pretty good, other than the late meltdown at Clemson. The pass-rush, led by star-in-the-making Leonard Floyd, is also pretty good. So now it becomes about solving that secondary. Georgia’s third-down defense (allowing a first down 44.8 percent of the time) ranks 98th nationally and last in the SEC. That looks like it will be the key. Todd Grantham and Scott Lakatos have work to do.

- This can’t be stressed enough about Aaron Murray: He led Georgia to this victory without his star tailback (Todd Gurley), and he has passed for 1,338 yards in four games without his best receiver (Malcolm Mitchell). Murray now leads the SEC in pass efficiency rating and is fourth nationally. And as good as Georgia’s receivers are, Murray also deserves credit for that: Every game it’s a different star, a different leader. Chris Conley led the team in receiving yards this time.

- Let’s also not gloss over what the offense (led by Murray, and coached by Mike Bobo) is doing: It ranks seventh nationally, and second in the SEC after Texas A&M, in total yardage, putting up 554 yards per game. That’s all the more impressive when you consider it has played three teams ranked in the top 10 at the time.

- Marshall Morgan’s performance may have been given short shrift, given all the deserved praise for Aaron Murray. But Morgan’s 55-yard field goal provided the difference in the game, and he’s now 4-for-5 on the season, his only miss coming from 52 yards. His kickoffs weren’t that great on Saturday, though they got better as the game went on. But think of how much stress Morgan’s inconsistency caused last year. If Morgan is making the same freshman-to-sophomore improvement that Blair Walsh made, think of how much that will help the special teams.

- No word yet on Gurley's status. We'll see if Mark Richt has anything firm by tonight's teleconference. The presence of Keith Marshall, and the ability of the offense to score through the air, softens the blow if Gurley has to miss time. Marshall is very good, and showed some decent ability between the tackles during Saturday's game. But Gurley is at a different level.

- Josh Harvey-Clemons (15 tackles) keeps getting better every game. He's not dominant yet, but he's showing that raw talent that has tantalized the team in practices.

- Finally, the Sanford Stadium crowd was as good as I've heard in my years covering games there.

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