Aaron Murray has had a pretty good November:
- 71 completions on 97 attempts (a 73.2% average)
- 1,137 yards (284 yards per game) to become the first SEC quarterback with three consecutive seasons with at least 3,000 yards passing.
- 13 touchdowns versus zero interceptions
- Became the nation’s most efficient quarterback with a 177.15 efficiency rating
- 11.72 yards per attempt
Yes, it has to be said that this incredible month came against a 1-AA team and BCS conference opponents who are 48th, 59th, and 82nd nationally in total defense, but Murray wasn’t bad before this month. Before the season we were a little skeptical about goals of Murray completing 65% or more of passes when the Georgia all-time record was right at 65.03%. Murray’s number entering the postseason sits right at 66.6%. If that holds through two more difficult games, he’d shatter the UGA record by over one and a half percent.
There will be plenty of individual challenges within the Alabama game, but few will be more important than seeing which Murray trend continues: will it be the red-hot Murray who only got better as November played out, or will it be the quarterback who was a combined 23-of-55 (42%) for 259 yards, 1 TD, and 4 INTs with 4.71 yards per attempt against better competition South Carolina and Florida?
Murray got over the “big game” hump with the win over Florida, but even he’d admit that it wasn’t his best day. He knows that three interceptions would mean a lopsided loss against the Tide, and even one would make Georgia’s chances of the upset much less likely. Murray’s stellar November wasn’t due only to the quality of the opponents; there have been some specific changes since Murray reviewed the Florida film. It’s tough for most of us to notice subtle adjustments in mechanics, but some of the other changes have shown up in the box scores.
Tight ends had 10 receptions in the first eight games. They’ve had 18 in the four games since. Running backs have also become more involved. The Georgia passing game has become more diversified. That’s come as Murray has been better about checking down and avoiding the throws into coverage that hurt him against Florida. He’s even run with the ball a couple of times – no Johnny Football certainly, but that element of his game shouldn’t be neglected with so much on the line this weekend.
I doubt Murray will have as easy of a time as he did against Tech and complete over 80% of his passes. And hopefully the running game will be effective enough that Murray can be at his best throwing the usual 20-25 times. He won’t have to throw the ball 40 times – if he does, Georgia’s offense is one-dimensional, playing from behind, and in trouble. There will be a lot for Murray to overcome beyond the Alabama defense itself. The SEC Championship Game isn’t a new experience for Murray, but the stakes are. He’ll have to deal with his habit of getting too wound up for big games – not only for the sake of the accuracy of his passes, but also because his teammates will follow his lead. If early opportunities present themselves against Alabama as they did against LSU last year, Murray and the offense have to be ready and able to cash in this time. He’s been focused and on point lately in dominant starts against rivals Auburn and Georgia Tech, and it won’t take long to find out if he will continue that form against Alabama.
Murray has cut himself off from media access this week and will focus on schoolwork and game preparation. There’s no question he’ll be prepared for the game and the opportunity. All that’s left is to build on the past month in the biggest game he’s ever played in. If he does, the team will be headed for glory, and Murray will belong in the discussion for some significant individual postseason honors.