Aaron Murray’s final big hurdle: Winning big games for UGA

semerson@macon.comAugust 18, 2012 

ATHENS -- Aaron Murray was jokingly asked this past week if he had started picking out his outfit for the Heisman Trophy ceremony this December. After all, Robert Griffin III’s socks kind of raised the ante.

“Maybe a top hat,” Murray said, flashing a wide grin.

Wisely, the Georgia quarterback got serious.

“No, I’m not looking for that at all,” he said. “You know offseason awards, end-of-season awards and accolades, that comes with teams that win.”

And that will prove to be the key to Murray’s legacy at Georgia.

Statistically, Murray has done just about everything to prove himself in two years as a starting quarterback. The career and single-season passing marks he has not set yet, he should eventually threaten.

But one statistic is a blot on his résumé. He has led Georgia to wins over just two ranked teams, and those teams were gone from the rankings the next week. His overall record against ranked teams is 2-7.

“I gotta win the big games,” Murray said. “I’ve gotta step it up and play better when it comes to big-time games. I know that. And that’s something I’m looking forward to this year, is taking that next step and taking on those bigger teams. But at the end of the day it’s not all me. All 125, or all 70 when we travel, we play as a team. And if we go out there with the right mindset, I don’t see many teams beating us this year.”

Obviously, a quarterback’s win percentage is different than a baseball pitcher or an individual sport. Sometimes there is only so much he can do. So how much is Murray actually at fault for each of those losses?

An examination of the past two years:

2010, No. 24 South Carolina 17, Georgia 6

It was the Bulldogs’ lowest-scoring game against the Gamecocks since 1906, but Murray actually had a solid day (14-for-21, 192 yards, no interceptions). In his first key game as a college starter, Murray drove Georgia into the red zone three times, but a Washaun Ealey fumble derailed the final drive.

Verdict: Murray didn’t really do anything to lose the game, and it has to be noted that a few days before the game he found out star receiver A.J. Green was ineligible because of the jersey incident.

2010, No. 12 Arkansas 31, Georgia 24

Murray led the team on a late comeback to tie it, which his defense gave right back. Murray (15-for-27, 254 yards, one touchdown) did throw one interception.

Verdict: Playing once again without Green, Murray had a solid and arguably good day.

2010, No. 2 Auburn 49, Georgia 31

Murray had three touchdown passes, no interceptions or fumbles and 283 passing yards. But Georgia’s defense couldn’t stop future Heisman winner Cam Newton, and Auburn also pulled off an onside kick to start the second half.

Verdict: Murray did basically everything that could be expected of him.

2011, No. 5 Boise State 35, Georgia 21

Murray was ineffective until late in the third quarter, by which time it was too late. He threw one interception.

Verdict: This was a team-wide failure, but if Murray had been effective earlier in the game, the outcome would have been closer.

2011, No. 12 South Carolina 45, Georgia 42

Murray had a prolific passing day, but he also committed several key errors: There was an interception returned for a touchdown, and with the game in the balance, his fumble while being sacked led to the Gamecocks’ game-clinching touchdown.

Verdict: The reverse of the previous loss to South Carolina, in that the score makes it seem Murray did enough, when in fact his mistakes arguably cost Georgia the game.

2011, No. 1 LSU 42, Georgia 10

Murray had it going for most of the first two quarters. But once momentum shifted, Murray’s passing game wilted. He finished with a career-high 24 incompletions and two interceptions.

Verdict: The interceptions hurt, but Murray was also hurt by the utter lack of a running game, and ultimately there wasn’t much he could do.

2012, No. 12 Michigan State 33, Georgia 30

Once again Murray struggled as the game went on. His first interception (he had two) helped spur Michigan State’s comeback, and Murray also had a key fumble.

Verdict: Murray could have put the game away but did not and bore heavy responsibility for that.

The unofficial, subjective count: Three games that can be closely pinned on Murray, three that can not and one (Boise State) that was kind of in between.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said he has never used Murray’s record against ranked teams as a source of motivation for his quarterback.

“I have never said that to him. I’m sure he wants to win every game and put ourselves (in position) to win a championship. So I know he’s motivated by that,” Bobo said. “That’s something that motivates him, I’m sure he’ll use it. I tend to motivate hard in practice. But when it’s game time you want them to believe in (themselves) you don’t want to put negative thoughts in their head. You want them to be positive than they’re going to succeed.”

Last week CBSsports.com produced its ranking of the preseason Heisman favorites. Murray was No. 6.

Now a junior, Murray’s ability to accrue the necessary statistics for a Heisman winner isn’t in question. As teammate Christian Robinson pointed out late last year, his pre-bowl stats weren’t that far off from Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who finished second in Heisman voting.

But Luck’s team won more games and finished fourth in the final national poll. Griffin propelled his team, Baylor, to one of its best seasons in recent history.

So Murray knows the path to any personal glory.

“That’s all that matters, is winning,” he said. “I want to be considered one of the best in Georgia history, and I’ve gotta win games and lead this team to victories and championships.”

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