ATHENS — Aaron Murray admitted he had trouble finishing his breakfast Saturday morning.
Georgia’s redshirt freshman starting quarterback said he was nervous leading into the Bulldogs’ season-opening 55-7 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
But after completing three of his first four passes, Murray’s nerves were settled.
“The first time in front of 90,000-plus fans, it’s a little bit different than in high school,” he said. “I just calmed my nerves a little bit and kept going out there and having fun.”
Murray guided the Bulldogs’ offense on five scoring drives in the first half despite playing without star receiver A.J. Green, held out because of an ongoing NCAA investigation, while receiver Tavarres King and running back Washaun Ealey were also out because of suspensions.
With the absence of three key weapons, Georgia’s senior laden offensive unit stepped in to help calm Murray’s anxiety.
“Right when he got out there I was like, ‘All right, let’s go big daddy,’ ” said senior receiver Kris Durham. “I talked to him on the bus ride in. He was calm and collected. I’m sure he had some butterflies, but he didn’t show it.”
The offense linemen did their part to protect Murray. But they also kept reminding Murray before plays in the huddle that they would take care of him.
“Those guys have done tremendous,” Murray said. “All spring, all camp they’ve been unbelievable. They helped me in the huddle, too. They told me, ‘Hey Aaron, we’ve got your back.’ They were in the huddle every time saying, ‘Hey, let’s go score. We’ve got you. We’ll give you time.’ They gave me plenty of time all game long. I was going through my reads — one, two, three.”
Murray threw his first career touchdown pass in the second quarter, hitting Durham in the front left corner of the end zone.
Perhaps more importantly, Murray also completed four third-down converting passes in the first half.
“It felt great just getting my feet wet, especially throwing my first touchdown pass in my college career. It was nice to get a couple of short ones in there, get some completions and just start rolling from there.”
Murray finished 17-of-26, for 160 yards and three touchdowns, giving way to freshman backup Hutson Mason in the third quarter.
“I think (Murray) enjoyed playing the game because things were a little bit clearer to him than some times they are in practice,” head coach Mark Richt said. “It was a beautiful day, and he played well.”
Murray’s debut was not without a few mistakes.
He threw an interception in the second quarter that wasn’t really his fault, Richt said. Durham dropped a sure pass that found the hands of Louisiana-Lafayette’s Lance Kelley.
On a busted play later in the second, Murray attempted to throw a pass out of the back of the end zone. The heave came up short, bouncing out of the hands of a defender, narrowly avoiding another slipup.
Also, Richt wasn’t happy with Murray’s decision to run the football on a few occasions.
On one such instance, as time expired in the second quarter, Murray scrambled from the pocket, snaking into the end zone before being pushed out of bounds.
“Aaron moves well. We’ve known he was that kind of an athlete,” Richt said. “I don’t want to turn him into a robot. I don’t think he does. He’s doing his thing. He’s doing what comes natural to him. ... I think as the season goes on I think they’ll be bigger, faster guys chasing him. I think when you look at our depth chart at quarterback, we don’t have very many of them.”
“That probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do because we would have gotten no points,” said Murray, who finished with 42 yards rushing. “We didn’t have any timeouts left, and there was only eight seconds. Coach was like, ‘If you can’t score, try to throw the ball out of bounds.’ Luckily we got a score. I realize in a game situation, from now on, we probably should make sure we get points at the end of the half.”
Despite a few noted glitches, Murray’s first start was pegged a success by all coaches and players polled.
“You could see it in his eyes when he stepped into the huddle,” running back Carlton Thomas said. “He just had a confidence in his eyes. But Aaron has been like that since back in the spring. This has been his team, and you could tell by the way he was out there (Saturday).”