ATHENS — Aaron Murray is every bit the video junkie. But unlike normal, he dreaded getting up this past Sunday morning to head over to the football complex to review the tape of Georgia’s game against Florida.
Well, the first half at least.
“It was not good,” Murray said, but smiling and laughing as he did. “I tried not to go in but I had to get in here and watch the film. Definitely, there were some errors.”
The Bulldogs’ record-setting quarterback was breaking some personal records on infamy as he threw three interceptions in the opening two quarters against Florida. But Murray rebounded with a 45-yard touchdown pass in the second half and Georgia held on for decisive 17-9 win over the Gators.
Murray’s final line was not one of his better ones: 12-of-24 passing for 150 yards, 1 TD and 3 interceptions. But coming out with the victory helped salve any wounds Murray might have felt.
“It’s definitely one of the top ones for me, regardless of personal stats in the game,” said Murray, who hails from Tampa and was heavily recruited by the Gators. “All that doesn’t matter. I play to win games and that win was probably the biggest one I’ve ever been a part of since I’ve been here.”
While Murray contributed significantly to winning the game, his performance against the Gators continued a trend of struggle in big games against elite defenses. That’s certainly not unusual; the best defenses are going to make quarterback look worse – but a lot of Murray’s mistakes against Florida weren’t necessarily made under the duress pressure. They were simply bad reads or bad throws, neither of which Murray normally does much.
The first one Murray tried to force into triple coverage, the second was badly overthrown and the third was delivered late and off target over the middle. Here’s Murray’s explanations:
Murray said his film study revealed it was mainly a matter of fundamentals. His tendency is to get off balance and neglect his footwork, which he is concentrating on improving in practice this week. But there is also evidence that Murray may be a little too pumped up and/or pressing in the Bulldogs’ most important games.
In his two games against Top 10 opponents South Carolina and Florida this season, Murray has completed 23 of 55 of passes (41.8 percent) for 259 yards and 1 touchdown with 4 interceptions. In his games against everybody else this season, Murray has completed 129 of 168 passes for 1,805 yards and 16 touchdowns with just 3 interceptions.
He has thrown 7 picks in three games against the Gators and had two interceptions in each of the Bulldogs’ final two games last season against LSU in the SEC Championship Game and Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. Both were Top 10 opponents.
“I don’t know,” quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo said. “The guy has performed so well over his career. The SEC Championship last year, he was on point in the first half and we didn’t help him out catching the ball. The bottom line is you’ve just got to relax and show you can play the way you’ve always played and be confident.”
Murray doesn’t believe he’s pressing more in big games, though he did say Bobo told him at halftime “to calm down and relax.”
“I’ve played in a lot of big games,” Murray said. “The locker room was all positive as far as my teammates and other coaches and I wasn’t stressed and freaking out. I just knew I had to clean things up. We were still up 7-6 at halftime so I knew I just needed to settle down a little bit and I’d be ready to go.A lot of my inaccuracy had to do with my feet not being on balance and that’s pretty much the reason. Come the second half, you could definitely see my footwork getting back to what it’s been during the entire season before and that’s when I started hitting more receivers.
The bottom line is Murray got the job done on Saturday, and his coaches and teammates have been unwavering in their support.
Asked if they’d considered making a quarterback change at any point in the game, coach Mark Richt snapped: “Aaron is the guy. Period.”
Jordan Jenkins’ stock is up
Richt confirmed on Wednesday that Jordan Jenkins has solidified his status as starter at “Sam,” or strongside, outside linebacker opposite of Jarvis Jones. Junior Chase Vasser is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury and senior Cornelius Washington has been playing primarily at a down lineman position since senior Abry Jones was lost for the season with an ankle injury.
Besides, Jenkins is playing lights out. The 6-foot-3, 257-pound athlete from Harris County has now started three games and, despite limited playing time early in the season, he’s second on the team in sacks (3), tackles for loss (6) and quarterback pressures (13).
“We’re going to play him as much as he can,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “He’s really come on and produced and really had a chance to have a sack the other night and he’s done some other good things. So we’ll continue to play him and try to get players that can make plays on the field.”
Having Jenkins opposite of Jones has proved particularly effective as teams are running away from the Bulldogs’ All-American only to find Jenkins at the ready. Occasionally, Grantham will pair them on the same side.
“Those two guys have got a pretty good pass rush, a pretty good twitch, get-off, and it allows them not to be able to say that they can totally go to this guy,” Grantham said. “If they do, it’s going to leave somebody else one-on-one. By doing that, though, a guy like Cornelius Washington went inside and that was really big for us. I thought Cornelius did good inside, so at times we had as many as three outside backers in there, maybe four every now and then.”
John Jenkins sidelined, Hall out
Starting nose guard John Jenkins was help out of practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury he suffered in practice on Tuesday. Richt indicated the 6-foot-3, 358-pound senior will be able to play against Ole Miss on Saturday.
“We think he’ll be fine but we didn’t want to put him out there today,” Richt said. “We think he’ll be ready.”
Richt said starting fullback Merritt Hall (ankle) did not practice and is likely out for Saturday’s game. He said junior Zander Ogletree, who played every fullback snap against the Gators, will start instead.
Etc. . . .
Cornerback Damian Swann was in a non-contact, green jersey but is not expected to miss any playing time this week. . . . Richt said Jamie Lindley handled all the kickoffs against Florida because Georgia wanted to attempt an onsides kick, Richt said. He won’t necessarily handle them against Ole Miss, however. “I don’t think Marshall (Morgan) is done with that,” Richt said. . . . Since it has been more than a month since the last home game, the Bulldogs expecting a big recruiting weekend. Among the unofficial visitors will be Grayson defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, the younger brother of Ole Miss linebacker and leading tackler Denzel Nkemdiche.