ATHENS -- Aaron Murray has a cheerful nature that teammates say masks a deep competitive fire. It just doesnt come out when the subject of his last career hurdle, as some see it, is brought up: Murrays record in so-called big games as Georgias starting quarterback.
His head coach says its a non-issue. His teammates say Murray does own at least one big one, perhaps more.
The detractors, whether they be fans in the blogosphere or an occasional media critic, will point out that Murray is just 2-7 against teams ranked in the top 25. And both of those wins came against teams that were ranked in the 20s and were out of the poll the next week.
Whatever your position, this much is clear: Murray can erase any doubts with a win this Saturday: By any measure, fifth-ranked Georgias trip to play No. 6 South Carolina is a big game.
I dont look at it as a personal achievement, Murray said. Its definitely a team achievement, and right now its a huge win for us to beat the No. 6 team in the country, to go into their home and beat them. Its another SEC win leading to our ultimate goal of Atlanta and Miami.
Murray has been Georgias starting quarterback since the first game of the 2010 season.
He has never missed a start. He is setting or on the verge of setting career records at Georgia: his next touchdown pass will tie David Greene for the most in school history, and Greene did it in four years.
And yet, the critics come back to the lack of high-profile wins.
Im sure its something that he hears, senior receiver Tavarres King said. Im not sure if it affects his play or anything. But I feel like if we win, thatll end. So certainly, I want to win for him. I want to win for all my brothers. Itll be good to get that win for him and everybody.
Head coach Mark Richt, a former quarterback himself, doesnt think Murray has to prove anything.
I dont think Murray is in need of any kind of a signature victory to validate the type of player he is. I think some quarterbacks, when theyre early in their career, somewhere along the way they need to play in such a way that the team has faith that this guy can do it. And sometimes it happens to a kid real early in his career.
Richt pointed to Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel, who played well against Florida earlier this season. Manziels team lost, but he played well and has carried that performance on, and was the SEC offensive player of the week this week.
Even though they lost that game I would think most of their fans and coaches and teammates would say this guy (Manziel) can do it. I think Murrays way past that. You know, would he like to have a championship under his belt here before he leaves Georgia? Im sure he would. We all would like to see that, because that means everybody is doing well.
But when I think of a signature victory, I think in terms of a victory that validates him as the leader and as a guy that can be the man. I think hes already done that.
An examination of Murrays performance in those seven losses to ranked teams show that he is only at fault for some of the losses. One that is often pointed to is last years 45-42 loss to South Carolina, when Murray struggled with turnovers, including a fumble in the fourth quarter that led to the decisive score.
But that game also goes back to Richts point about a quarterback proving himself in a losing effort.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo thinks Murrays performance against South Carolina last year spurred his improvement. In fact, Bobo said he saw it from Murray while the game was actually being played.
Hes got a lot more confidence in himself and the players around him, Bobo said. In that game I think you could see the confidence starting to develop in him and those young receivers. Even though we lost that game and losing is no fun, I think that gave us a little spark offensively to start that run last year.
Sophomore receiver Michael Bennett, speaking prior to his injury in Tuesdays practice, opined that Murray does want to erase any doubts. Even if he doesnt say it.
I think he wants to prove himself. Its a big game, and everyone wants to prove themselves in a big game like this, Bennett said. For whatever reason, people say he hasnt played great in big games. But the Florida game last year, he played great. And games we didnt win, the whole team didnt play well. Like Boise, it was a whole team effort, not just Aaron. He is good in these big-game situations, I think, and hes gonna show it on Saturday.