Murray makes strides amid Bulldogs’ disappointing start
By SETH EMERSON
ATHENS, Ga. — If Aaron Murray ever gets frustrated, he doesn’t seem to show it. If he ever thinks his early-season success is being wasted or just overlooked, he hasn’t said so in public.
In fact, the Georgia freshman quarterback is just as relentlessly positive four games into his career as he was in August.
Murray was supposed to be the biggest question mark the Bulldogs had this season. Instead, he has been one of the few bright spots in a disappointing start.
“My goal was to make strides every game, to continue getting better, to learn from my mistakes the previous week, build on that every week,” Murray said. “I definitely feel like I’ve made some strides, some small strides, game in and game out. Not perfect.”
But he has played as well as the Bulldogs could have hoped.
Murray ranks fourth in the SEC in passing yards, fourth in total offense and sixth in pass efficiency. Perhaps more importantly, he has turned over the ball only twice in four games.
Before the season, that was Murray’s main charge from his coaches: Manage the offense and limit the turnovers.
He has done that, but the Bulldogs still have struggled, thanks to star wide receiver A.J. Green’s suspension and a porous running game.
“I think Aaron has surpassed our expectations of playing under the pressure, of being a confident young man, (handling) every situation with poise,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “And his ability to make plays probably surprised us more than we thought he’d do.”
Bobo was speaking mainly of Murray’s running ability. Take out sacks, and he would be Georgia’s second-leading rusher. He leads the team with two rushing touchdowns and has Georgia’s longest rush of the season, a 21-yarder against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Perhaps the only criticism of Murray is that he hasn’t used his feet more. But he still is learning how to handle himself in the pocket — with pass blocking that has struggled at times — so Murray has had to make a lot of decisions on the fly.
“When it comes to making my reads, they really make sure we do a good job of going through our reads, and, if it’s not there, then get rid of the ball or take off running,” Murray said. “I had a couple opportunities this past week. It wasn’t there, they did a good job covering our guys, so I took off running and tried to make a play with my feet.
“They’re gaining more trust in me when it comes to that type of thing. I’ve just got to be smarter in what I do, like we talked about the first week, making sure I don’t take any huge blows.”
The coaches don’t want him to take any blows because he may be the team’s most valuable asset at this point. His backup, true freshman Hutson Mason, played in the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette but not since then.
Logan Gray is still the emergency quarterback, but he is a wide receiver. Gray also has been impressed with Murray’s rapid progress, especially with two games coming in hostile environments (at South Carolina and Mississippi State).
The Bulldogs struggled on offense in each of those games, getting two field goals in each and only a late touchdown in Starkville. But few blamed Murray.
“From Aaron’s point of view, you’ve just got to keep on grinding; you’ve got to keep on worrying about what he can worry about,” Gray said. “He can’t control if someone unfortunately fumbles or something. It’s out of his hands. He’s just got to focus on himself and trying to keep getting better. I know for sure he’s doing that.”
Murray didn’t take the bait this week, when given a chance to pat himself on the back, and point out how solid he’s played. There’s plenty of season left, as Murray pointed out.
But so far, the respect he earned in preseason from his veteran teammates seems to have carried into when the games count. Receiver Tavarres King, for instance, said Murray has “definitely” been better than King expected.
“A lot of fight,” King said of Murray. “You don’t expect to see a lot of fight in a young guy like that, especially one that’s getting rattled and knocked around. But I’m proud of him, he’s gonna continue to grow this season.”