ATHENS -- Aaron Murray got a text the other day from someone in the Georgia athletics department, seeking clarification on a stat. There was a discrepancy: CBS and UGA were at odds over his passing yardage, and could Murray clear it up?
“I have no idea,” Murray said he wrote back, sounding incredulous as he recalled the story. “I was like, ‘Go ahead with whatever you want.’ ”
A reporter then put Murray on the spot: Did he know his career touchdown pass total?
Murray closed his eyes and thought for a second.
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“A hundred and six?” he said. “Is it 106? I don’t know.”
Yes, in fact it is 106, which is eight short of the SEC record, held for now by former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel. More imminent is Murray breaking former Georgia quarterback David Greene’s school and SEC record for passing yards: Murray is 86 yards away, and he should break it Saturday at Tennessee.
These are heady days for Murray. He has had the big numbers for awhile, and now he has put the big-game question to rest, leading Georgia to victories over two top-10 teams the first month of the season.
Murray came in third in this week’s Heisman Trophy straw poll by the website www.heismanpundit.com. The rest of Georgia’s schedule is very manageable, so it sets up as a chance for Murray to pad his stats.
UGA still doesn’t plan to start a Heisman campaign for its quarterback, figuring he doesn’t need the help.
“Who hasn’t heard of Aaron Murray? Who hasn’t seen him play?” said Claude Felton, UGA’s associate athletics director for communications.
Perhaps the most impressive sign of Murray’s ability is how he’s making so many receivers a threat. And that’s after losing his best one, Malcolm Mitchell, to a season-ending knee injury on the second drive of the season.
Three different players have led the team in receiving yards during the first four games. Six different Bulldogs players already have more than 100 yards receiving. Murray threw four touchdown passes in the 44-41 win over LSU, and three different receivers caught them.
Junior Chris Conley, one of four players who has between 11-15 catches this year, said it was a tribute to how comfortable Murray is with them.
“He’s actually just as comfortable as he is with Justin (Scott-Wesley), as he is with Michael (Bennett), and he’s getting that way with Reggie Davis too, to where he’s able to take chances, and knows that nine times out of 10 his receiver’s gonna come down with the ball and make a play,” Conley said. “It really speaks not only to him studying the defense but taking the time to build chemistry with his receivers, whether that be working on stuff after practice with them, or something as simple as sitting down to talk with them about a game plan.”
It’s also a testament to how quickly Murray has learned to go through his reads. Conley said he thinks Murray is going to his second and third reads, but he does so quickly enough that it seems like the first option.
“Sometimes it’s just his mental clock and knowing the matchups across the field,” Conley said. He knows the types of receivers he has where, what type of attributes are and who they’re going up against. He knows which side of the field he’s gonna work, and he can snap to the receiver, knowing the matchup.”
Murray is also making more plays on his feet this year, which mitigates some of the blocking issues. Murray said there haven’t been many designed rollouts -- there was only one against LSU -- but he has acted on the offseason plan to extend plays. One of his most important plays against LSU came in the fourth quarter when he rolled out of the pocket and threw across his body to Conley, completing a third down. Georgia went on to score and take a 37-34 lead.
“We worked extremely hard on that, and it’s paid off the first four games,” Murray said. “There’s been a lot of instances where I’ve been able to get outside the pocket. Things might break down or no one’s open initially, or I just screw up and have a bad read. But just get out of there, let our receivers work, they do a great job of staying alive for me and trying to get open.”
On Monday morning, Murray was named SEC offensive player of the week for the second time.
That afternoon, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was drilling Murray in practice the way he might a freshman or someone who had just come off a four-interception performance.
“I told him at the beginning of the year I don’t want him to sugar anything this year,” Murray said. “I want him to push me to get better every day, to not take a day off. In Mondays of past years it was more chill, get loosened up, get ready to pass again. (Monday) we were doing drills the whole time, making sure we’re staying hungry, making sure I’m staying on top of my game.”