ATHENS -- Hutson Mason realized he should stop reading social media the day he got a message that went something like this:
“Mr. Mason, you looked terrible in the bowl game. Go Dawgs!”
“I’m like: Thanks bro. Thanks for your great professional opinion,” Mason said, shaking his head and smiling.
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Truth is, Mason was far from terrible in that Gator Bowl: He passed for 320 yards and only had one interception. So already Mason is equaling Aaron Murray in one way: Being discounted by a segment of his team’s fan base.
Welcome to being the new starting quarterback for the Georgia football team.
For the first few years of Murray’s four as the starter, some fans clamored for Mason to be given a shot, before Murray’s performance finally quieted all the critics. Mason finally got his shot late last season when Murray tore his ACL; after two solid starts, then an outstanding spring, the offense is officially his.
And yet the senior knows the doubters will remain.
“I haven’t had a lot of experience, I know that, and I know people have a lot of question marks, and rightfully so,” Mason said. “I’ve had two games, and I haven’t proven a lot. That’s just kind of my plan, to stay inside that bubble and work as hard as I can. Hopefully I can make an impression that can last.”
The bubble that he’s referring to is a self-isolation that Mason intends to enter into the closer the season gets. He plans to delete all his social media accounts, or at least stay as far away from them as possible. The bubble will consist of the practice field and film room, two places where Murray lived – as did Mason the past four years, just out of the spotlight.
Those two starts at the end of last season – plus the second half of the Kentucky game – were huge for Mason and the Georgia offense, at least in terms of this year. Yes, Mason was uneven at times, less comfortable in the pocket, and the difference in his arm versus Murray’s was evident on some throws. But the game action provided him a blueprint for how to improve in the offseason.
So Mason focused heavily on his footwork, and generally on the waist down. Moving his feet and hips right in order to get more torque on his throws. He worked extensively with George Bobo, the father of Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, and Mason said the results were evident.
“I could just feel more zip on some of the balls I had never had,” Mason said. “Coach (Mike) Bobo would say: ‘Man I never saw you use your lower body like that in the four years you’ve been here.’ So just comments like that in my exit meeting, I could tell what I wanted to accomplish in the summer I did. Now it’s just a matter of keep doing it in the summer, so those practice reps just kind of become automatic.”
Georgia head coach Mark Richt, when was asked earlier this summer about his confidence level in Mason, pointed out that Mason doesn’t exactly have to carry the offense by himself.
“I think he’s going to do very well. He’s going to be surrounded by some really good skill players. Experienced, talented guys. I think the line, if they stay healthy, will be able to provide the space and the time to operate and for us to run well,” Richt said. “I think we’ll be better on defense. I think we’ll be better on special teams. So Hutson’s going to be the beneficiary of a lot of things coming together. So hopefully that’ll help him succeed.”
That’s all true: Tailback Todd Gurley is a Heisman candidate, backup tailback Keith Marshall is also a weapon, and the receiver position is very deep.
But Mason has also made it clear that writing his own legacy is important to him as well. True, he doesn’t mind being the next Tee Martin, who replaced Peyton Manning at Tennessee, and won a championship. But Martin wasn’t just along for the ride that year; he was in the top half of every major SEC quarterback stat category.
Mike Bobo’s main emphasis to Mason has just been to be himself. He can’t be Aaron Murray, D.J. Shockley, Mike Bobo or anybody. And it’s not too much an issue because Mason is so confident in his own ability.
But Mason, who is as confident as he is candid, said he didn’t really need to hear that.
“I already knew,” he said. I don’t blow myself up to be any more than I am. I know I don’t have a Matthew Stafford arm, I know that I wasn’t blessed with that just absolute God-given ability. But I have confidence in myself, and I know how this offense is going to run, and I feel it’s more about the mental side for me than it is just having this freakish athletic skill set.
“Do I have the strongest arm, no? But I believe I’m very accurate and I believe that I have great timing and I’m kind of building that chemistry (with my receivers). And knowing where I’m gonna go with the ball before the ball is snapped, I think that’s more important than how hard you can throw it.”