ATHENS -- In the lead-up to its regular-season finale, the Georgia football team’s running game has received plenty of attention and not for the right reasons. So has the Bulldogs’ defense and its ability to stop Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack.
But what if Georgia can render it all moot via its passing game?
That’s very possible. It’s also far from certain, given the way quarterback Aaron Murray and company have played this year.
Murray ranks second in the SEC in passing efficiency, and other than a rough stretch earlier in the season has had a second straight outstanding season. Still, bouts with inconsistency are why the Bulldogs still have a middling national ranking in pass offense (48th out of 120 teams in FBS).
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“We definitely have not been as consistent as we’d like to be,” Murray said.
For a while it looked like Murray and company had found something: Georgia passed the ball with impunity against New Mexico State and Auburn, racking up a combined 10 passing touchdowns in wins that resulted in a combined 108 points.
But that same team followed it up with only 19 points and 162 passing yards against Kentucky, one of the SEC’s worst teams.
Within games, streakiness has been an issue almost all year for the passing game.
“I’d say when we’re off it takes something more to get us going. You need that spark,” said freshman wideout Malcolm Mitchell, who leads the team with 549 receiving yards. “I feel like last week, receivers we didn’t create that spark we needed. But when we’re on, we’re on.”
Murray has had accuracy issues at times this year. He had six interceptions through four games, after only having eight all of last season. Then he only had four incompletions against Auburn.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo shrugged off a question about the passing game’s inconsistency.
“That’s football. You ain’t gonna complete every pass,” Bobo said. “You’re not gonna pass five touchdowns every week. But the guy is leading the league in efficiency, I think he’s doing a good job. You’re gonna have to punt sometimes. As long as we don’t turn it over, I’m happy. We’re doing a good job of getting better every week.”
Indeed, Murray does rank second in the SEC in passing efficiency, behind only Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson. He has 28 passing touchdowns this season, which is a school record. His ability is not in question.
So it’s possible that Georgia’s receivers have also been an issue. Mitchell missed three games with a hamstring injury. Murray said the team has “tremendous” depth: Six players have at least 11 receptions and 200 yards this season.
But it also may mean that the team has taken a while to figure out its best plays, and most comfortable routes to run with certain players. Perhaps it’s only appropriate that the only touchdown last week, to Marlon Brown, came when Brown ran the wrong route.
“Sometimes it’s that they call a good defense for our play call and nothing’s open,” Murray said. “Or you might just miss by a little bit or this or that. There’s a lot of variables that go into every play. You’re not gonna have a perfect game or a perfect series, you’ve just gotta put it in the past and continue working.”
Georgia has emphasized ball security in practice this week. Its run-game problems have taken center stage, specifically the uncertainty around leading rushers Isaiah Crowell (ankle injury) and Carlton Thomas (suspended last week.)
But if Murray and company can pass the ball with impunity, it should take Georgia Tech out of its gameplan.
“Georgia Tech loves to push the ball up the field slowly,” Mitchell said. “But as far as what the (Georgia) offense can do, all we can do is score. And the defense stop them. It’s as simple as that.”