ATHENS — There has been much debate at the end of 2012 about whether or not Aaron Murray will – or should – turn pro after the season concludes. But there has been no debate whatsoever about who will play quarterback for Georgia if and when Murray makes that jump.
Hutson Mason is unchallenged as the Bulldogs’ heir apparent. In fact, so set is the plan for succession, there is no need for the word “apparent.” Better to call him “QB-in-waiting.”
So confident are Georgia’s coaches and players in Mason’s abilities, they speak of him in the same reverent tones as a seasoned starter.
“When he gets the opportunity he’s going to make some plays, I have no doubt about that,” junior tight end Arthur Lynch said of the 6-foot-3, 210-pound quarterback. “I’m positive about that and I think Aaron would be the first to tell you that as well. I think there are a lot of SEC schools that could use him as a starter right now and a lot of other schools elsewhere in the southeast like the ACC. Wait ‘til you see him.”
“Hutson’s a great quarterback,” Georgia’s three-year starter said. “He’s worked his tail off. He’s been here three years; he’s learned the playbook, his footwork, his progressions. Obviously he hasn’t been able to get the snaps this year, but . . . Hutson is ready to go, and he’s a very capable quarterback.”
Nevertheless, Mason hasn’t gotten a snap all year. In fact, thanks to Murray’s ability – and durability – Mason has played very little in his first three seasons ((8 games, 356 yards passing, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions). But he has so completely impressed the Bulldogs’ coaches in practices that they literally did not need to see any more of him in games this past season.
Grudgingly at first, Georgia coaches accepted Mason’s request to be redshirted so he could build a year of eligibility between himself and Murray, who’s also a junior. At this stage, it is clear that the record-setting Murray is not going to be unseated and there simply hasn’t been enough snaps left over to waste another season of eligibility for Mason.
But now Mason knows he he’ll have a senior season all to himself regardless of what Murray decides. And it sounds as though the Bulldogs could make a concerted effort to get Mason more work next season even if Murray returns.
“I think Hutson certainly deserves to play,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I mean, he’s earned the right to play. Managing that will be another whole question. But is he ready to play and has he earned the right to play? I’d say yes. To sit here and try to say what all that’s going to look like, I wouldn’t get into that.”
As for Murray’s decision, Richt said he hasn’t had a conversation yet with him but plans to soon.
“Sometimes you’ll have that conversation before the (bowl) game; it just depends on where the guy’s at,” Richt said. “But if Aaron’s decision is to play the game then do all the thinking and soul-searching and all that kind of stuff, we’ll definitely sit down and talk. We’ll just kind of lay it out there as far as the history of the draft and why there would be an advantage to staying and why it would there be a thought to go and all that.”
Georgia’s prospects on offense could be incentive for both quarterbacks to play for the Bulldogs next season. Other than receivers Marlon Brown and Tavarres King, who are graduating, the entire starting unit will be back.
The Bulldogs have been down this road before, most notably from 2003-2005, when the careers of David Greene and D.J. Shockley overlapped. Greene remained the primary starter until he graduated and left as the winningest quarterback in NCAA history (since unseated). Shockley got regular playing time as Greene’s backup, then took over as the undisputed starter as a senior. He led the Bulldogs’ to the 2005 SEC Championship.
“I think it worked out well,” said Shockley, who recently retired from professional football and is living and working in Atlanta. “Once I made the decision to stay, I vowed not to have any regrets. I wasn’t going to backtrack to say, ‘what if.’ I was like, ‘I’ve made this decision. Now I’m going to go with it whether it works out for the best or it doesn’t.’ If I’d have left and gone somewhere, there’s no telling what would’ve happened. So I feel good about the decision.”
Shockley said he was extremely close to transferring to Florida State or Maryland after his sophomore season with the Bulldogs. But he opted to remain in Athens and shared time with Greene in a semi-regular rotation in which he’d play every third series, depending on the flow of a particular game.
It’s no wonder then that Mason, when he was just about at his wit’s end last year and was seriously considering transferring from Georgia, made a call Shockley.
“He called me trying to get some insight,” Shockley said. “Basically I didn’t tell him one way or another, you should stay or you should go. I told him, ‘you’ve got to make the best decision for you and what you feel most comfortable with.’ I told him if you leave, you can never be sure what you’re going to get. Anything can happen because you’ve got a lot of different variables. When you’re at the University of Georgia, you already know what you’ve got.’”
Mason agreed and decided to stay, but under the pretense of being redshirted. The Bulldogs agreed, but with the understanding it might have to be lifted in the event Murray was injured.
Only once did that seem a possibility. Murray got knocked out in the first half of the Auburn game and walkon Parker Welch came into to relieve him. As it turned out, Murray merely had the breath knocked out of him and returned after one play (throwing a touchdown pass to Tavarres King, no less).
Mason was also the backup plan for the SEC Championship game against Alabama and would have been for a BCS title shot, had it come. But now, as the Bulldogs prepare for a relatively meaningless bowl game against Nebraska, there is no scenario that would alter Mason’s redshirt plans. As a result, coaches scratched him from all media interview requests since he’ll have no part in the bowl game.
But others are happy to speak Mason’s behalf.
“Hutson’s kind of a gunslinger, but not in a way where he throws it carelessly,” Lynch said. “He just has a very quick release and he has a stronger arm than people gave him credit for coming out of high school. He stands in the pocket and he knows how to make plays. There’s a little bit of a swagger about him that makes him kind of special.”
Said Richt: “Guys at all positions get to a certain point where you feel like as a coach they can perform and do well. Hutson has reached that point in his career.”