ATHENS -- Aaron Murray led the way and won the big game, and the weight is finally off him. Now he can move on with his life and not have to hear about it ever again.
Or at least until the next big game.
In less than three weeks.
Against the team whose quarterback is the player Murray beat out to become Georgia’s starter four years ago.
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The kid just can’t catch a break.
Still, there does seem to an air of relief around Murray and his teammates after he played the best game of his career in Georgia’s 41-30 win over South Carolina. It wasn’t so much a feeling that Murray had finally played well in the big game. In their minds, he already had several times. Instead, it was a hope they wouldn’t have to deal with the tired refrain anymore.
Not that Murray wanted to talk about that, as it would only validate the critics who have since lost the argument.
“No, I ignore all the other stuff and talk,” Murray said, with some bitter emphasis on the word “stuff.” Or at least what passes for bitterness from the cheery quarterback.
Want a good way to get someone within the Georgia program to roll their eyes at you? Ask about Murray in big games. Want a good way to get mild-mannered head coach Mark Richt testy after the SEC championship game? Ask the same question.
Even the man who personified “winning quarterback” in recent Georgia history thought the whole thing was a bit ridiculous.
“It’s unfair how guys get labeled, because, honestly, a quarterback’s play doesn’t always correlate to a win,” David Greene said Tuesday. “Let’s face it, there’s a lot of great quarterbacks that played in college and the professional ranks that didn’t win championships, and it wasn’t just because of the way he played. Dan Marino, for example, one of the best quarterbacks ever, didn’t win a Super Bowl. But was it his fault he didn’t win a Super Bowl?”
Greene finished his career in 2004 as the winningest quarterback in program history, starting in 42 Georgia victories. Murray is sitting on 29 victories now with a maximum of 12 games left. Greene also won an SEC championship game, something that has twice eluded Murray.
But Greene is the first to agree with Murray and Richt that it doesn’t fall on the quarterback.
“People will say, ‘Oh, well David, does that mean I could win the big game because when I won the SEC championship our defense only gave up three points?’ ” Greene said. “I mean, it’s a different deal.”
A history lesson: Entering Murray’s redshirt freshman season in 2010, he was the main question. But when Georgia started 1-4, the blame was pinned on the defense, the play-calling, the running backs, a disappointing offensive line, A.J. Green selling his jersey ... It was almost an afterthought that Murray was playing well.
But by last season, any losses -- as few as there were -- were somehow pinned on Murray. When he got what many around the program considered big wins -- the two over Florida -- it was quickly forgotten by national pundits.
Greene also said that with the way the game has changed, becoming more up-tempo, Murray has to score 30 points to win games, unlike what Greene had to do for most of his career.
“I think if you take Aaron’s play since he’s been at Georgia, he’s been as good as anybody,” Greene said.
But especially on Saturday, when Murray only had six incompletions: Three were drops, one was a throwaway, and two were short under duress. He didn’t fumble the two times he was sacked, and he threw for four touchdowns. It was simply the best performance of his career.
“He’s had some good ones,” senior tight end Arthur Lynch said. “But in terms of the stage, the magnitude, the importance of this game, this is probably the best that he’s played yet.”
Lynch remembers Murray being really loose and relaxed before the game, even coming off a loss at Clemson in which he committed two turnovers, allowing the old doubters to creep to their keyboards.
“He realized people are gonna say what they’re gonna say, and I’m gonna continue to do what I’ve always done well,” Lynch said. “That’s what he did. His leadership on and off the field is something never absent for us. This game everything finally came together, and he just played lights out.”
The next question to Lynch started with the premise that Murray’s teammates have always rolled their eyes at the “not good in big games” talk.
“Yeah,” Lynch interrupted.
The two wins over Florida were big, after all.
“They were,” Lynch interrupted again.
But was there still any kind of desire on Murray’s part before last Saturday to once and for all put it to rest?
“Yeah, I think there’s obviously some desire for him, he wants to prove people wrong,” Lynch said.
If there are any more holdouts, Murray has another chance in three weeks. But for most reasonable people, it should now be a settled issue.
Contact Seth Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org