ATHENS - Hutson Mason will make his first start this week as Georgia's starting quarterback, something he's been waiting to do for four years. On the eve of preparing to make that first start, head coach Mark Richt compared Mason to someone who didn't have to wait that long.
"David Greene and him are similar in the type of ball they would throw," Richt said, speaking of the four-year starter and the winningest quarterback in school history. "(Mason is) a guy that anticipates very well. he'll throw the ball sooner than maybe some QBs would throw the ball. Some guy'll wait just a tad longer and throw it a little harder. And guys like Greene and Hutson would have his sense of anticipation and throw it to the spot, really before the guy even gets his head around sometime. So I think there's some similarity there, just in the style of the timing of the throws, and the velocity and the catchability. I mean very catchable throws these guys throw.
"Other than that, it's just hard to see. We'll see how he leads. We'll see how he handles being the starter."
Mason, at 6-foot-4, is about three inches taller than Murray, but he may not be quite as strong. Murray's arm strength has always been an underrated part of his arsenal.
But Mason also has a good arm, which he has shown in the rare instances he's been able to play. He had 19 pass attempts against Kentucky on Saturday, three more than he had all of this season before the game. Mason redshirted last season, and combined for just 47 pass attempts as a freshman and sophomore.
Don't look for Georgia's playbook to be altered with Mason in there. While he may be similar to Greene, this is not like D.J. Shockley replacing Greene.
"I don't think there'll be much more change," Richt said. "We're certainly not gonna make up a bunch more plays. Whatever has been in our arsenal will be the types of plays we'll be repping and making and calling. Hutson's style isn't that different from Aaron. He's going to be a great decision-maker for us, and get us in the right plays, and he's gonna do his best to get the ball to the receivers we have. ...
"And from time to time there'll be a scramble, from time to time there'll be a zone-read where maybe he'll pull the ball or something like that and run it every once in awhile. But I would say the gameplan would be very much the same."
Mason has served as Murray's top backup for four seasons, including last year's redshirt. So he's a familiar name, and a known quantity around the team.
That's not really the case for the new No. 2 quarterback.
Faton Bauta, a redshirt freshman who until Saturday had never taken a snap in a real college game, would be the next quarterback if something happened to Mason. Richt confirmed that on Sunday evening.
"Faton would be our No. 2 right now, and I think he would be ready," Richt said in an upbeat tone.
Bauta, a native of New Jersey who played high school football in West Palm Beach, Fla., is listed at 6-3 and 216 pounds. He was considered by some recruiting analysts to be more of a fullback, tight end or even linebacking prospect coming out of high school. But Georgia coaches were adamant about wanting him at quarterback.
Last year Bauta redshirted, while former walk-on Parker Welch and former four-star recruit Christian LeMay shared the No. 3 quarterback duties. (Mason was the No. 2 quarterback, but would only have gone in if there was an emergency.)
Then Bauta had a strong preseason, supplanting Welch and LeMay for the No. 3 job. When Bauta was the only quarterback besides Murray and Mason to make the Tennessee trip, it was evident that he had continued to impress in practice.
"I think he's a guy who has certainly worked hard to learn what to do," Richt said. "We certainly could run a good bit of our offense (with Bauta). I don't know if we'd do just everything we do. But we could run a good bit of it. I mean Faton is a guy who if you could plan a whole gameplan around you could certainly plan it. If he had to roll in the game similar to what happened with Hutson, he definitely could get us through the game, within whatever we have in the gameplan. And then the next game you could gear a few more things to him."
Georgia has been used to having to work in new players on offense this year, with all the season-ending and multi-game injuries. This time it's just at quarterback, a position where no one not named Murray has started since 2009.
“It’s been one of those freaky years. You’re having injuries right and left and having to adjust," said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "And really just credit the coaches on the offensive staff, just having guys ready to play every week, and guys that really hadn’t gotten a lot of reps, and a lot of experience, but they’re coming in and making plays. That’s a credit to the guys getting ready, a credit to the guys that aren’t first-teamers, or even second-teamers, to continue to work and be ready for their opportunity. I’m really proud of all those guys. The silver lining is it’ll pay off in the future. The experience those guys have gotten this year is gonna pay off down the road.”
Of course in the meantime the Bulldogs have to find a way to beat their in-state rival. Murray was 3-0 against Georgia Tech.
Richt was asked Sunday if it was harder to beat Georgia Tech without Murray. The coach started to laugh as he answered.
"Well, he was the most prolific passer in the history of the Southeastern Conference, so I think when you lose a guy like that it doesn't help your chances," Richt said. "But we do have faith in confidence that Hutson will do a good job."