ORLANDO, Fla. – Aaron Murray would not say whether he had played his last game as a Georgia Bulldog – Alec Ogletree did, by the way – but whatever he decides he knows he’ll go into his next season off a win for a change.
Murray, a junior who is contemplating early entry into the NFL set a Georgia bowl record with five touchdown passes and threw for 427 yards overall to earn Capital One Bowl MVP honors and lead the No. 7 Bulldogs to a 45-31 come-from-behind victory over Nebraska Tuesday at Citrus Bowl Stadium. Murray was at the offensive controls as Georgia lost its previous two bowl games.
“It was an awesome game and I’m definitely very excited to get a win,” said Murray, who also set Georgia’s single-season passing record with 3,544 yards. “I don’t know what it feels like to go into an offseason with a win, so that in itself feels great. But it was great to get a win for these seniors and great to get 12 wins. As for the future, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m just enjoying the moment right now.”
Georgia offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo said he’ll sit down with Murray to talk about his future on Monday. Meanwhile, Murray said he’d return home to Tampa to discuss his options with his parents. The underclassman deadline to declare for the draft is Jan. 15.
Ogletree, a junior linebacker who led the Bulldogs with 13 tackles on Tuesday, said after the game he is definitely going to make the jump to the pros. He and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, also a junior, both project as first-rounders. Jones did not announce a decision on Tuesday, however.
The 2012 Bulldogs (12-2) become just the third team in UGA history to win 12 games in one season. They the 1980 national champions (12-0) and the 2002 SEC champions (13-1). Georgia has won 22 games over the last two seasons.
“Well, it’s more fun to win than to lose,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We’d lost the last two (bowl games) and we were getting kind of tired of that. We’ve worked so hard to get better from that 6-7 year (in 2010). We didn’t win the SEC Championship but we certainly performed a lot better . . . and we wanted to win this bowl to prove – maybe to ourselves – that we were one of the best teams in the country. So I’m just thankful for the victory.”
It didn’t come easy. The Bulldogs, who had jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead on an early safety and touchdown, found themselves trailing 31-23 late in the third quarter. But Georgia’s defense limited Nebraska (10-4) to only one second-half score and Murray rallied the Bulldog’ offense.
Murray led them on a 79-yard scoring drive to tie the game. After three straight Todd Gurley runs – the freshman paced the Bulldogs’ with 125 yards rushing and a touchdown — Murray hit Tavarres King on an 11-yard completion for a third-down conversion. Georgia was 12-of-17 on third down for the game.
On the next play, Murray connected with a diving Chris Conley on a 49-yard touchdown pass to bring the Bulldogs within two with 7:26 to go in the third quarter. Georgia elected to go for the two-point conversion and Murray made good on it with laser pass to Rhett McGowan over the middle that tied the game at 31-all.
The game-winning play came with Murray scrambling toward the right sideline early in the fourth quarter. He directed a tightly-covered Keith Marshall to change his route and head toward the end zone down the sideline. He hit Marshall with a nifty back-shoulder throw that resulted in a 24-yard touchdown and a 38-31 Georgia lead with 14:52 to play.
The outcome still hung in the balance, however. Georgia’s defense stopped the Cornhuskers near midfield and forced them to punt. Taking over at their own 15, the Bulldogs faced third-and-12 from their own 13 when Nebraska sent a full-house blitz. But Georgia had a perfect call played – a tunnel screen to Conley, and Murray had the presence to withstand the pressure, avoid a deflection, and hit Conley in stride as he streaked across the middle of the field. Conley ramled 87 yards untouched a touchdown and a two-score lead.
“That was a designed play,” said Conley, who finished with 136 yards and two touchdowns on two catches. “Coach Bobo did a great job on the play-calling, recognizing the house blitz. Murray made that check at the line, made a great throw and all I had to do was catch and run.”
Murray wasn’t sharp early. He threw interceptions on two of Georgia’s first three possessions, including one that Nebraska linebacker Will Compton returned 24 yards for a touchdown. But he was extremely sharp when it mattered, completing 7-of-8 passes for two touchdowns as the Bulldogs’ turned a tie into a 14-point lead.
“It definitely was a tough start with a couple of picks early,” Murray said. “But they were early on and we knew there was a full game ahead of us and we were still in the game. It was great after that second pick to come out and have a nice (75-yard) touchdown to Tavarres.”
Murray’s 427 yards on 18-of-33 passing tied his career record as a Bulldog. The yards, the five touchdowns and the 87-yarder were all Georgia bowl records. He also set the school record for TDs in a season (36) and total offense (3,548 yards) and added to his record for career TD passes (now 95). He narrowly missed a sixth touchdown strike, which King couldn’t haul in in the end zone in the game’s final minutes.
Murray closes out his junior season with 3,893 yards on 249-of-388 passing and 36 TDs with 10 interceptions. After the game, Georgia fans chanted “one more year” to Murray as he accepted his MVP trophy in an on-field ceremony shortly after the game.
Murray wouldn’t say but did let it slip that he is “gonna miss the best fans in the country.”
Whether that’s now or a year from now will be determined later.