ATHENS -- A frustrated Georgia fan called into Mark Richt’s radio show the night of Sept. 29, demanding that Brice Ramsey be given a chance at quarterback. The fan had seen enough of Hutson Mason.
Richt stood by his quarterback.
“There’s a lot of people that have opinions on that, and I respect them, I really do,” Richt said that night. “I’ve been coaching quarterbacks for 30 years, and (offensive coordinator Mike) Bobo’s been coaching them for a good long bit, as well. Not to say we’re perfect by any means. But we’re doing what’s in the best interests of Georgia, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Richt needing to defend Mason seems so long ago now, as the fifth-year senior has become, believe it or not, one of the most dependable passers in the SEC.
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So Richt was asked Tuesday what made him know at the time, back when fans were calling for Ramsey, that Mason was still his man.
“If you’ve played quarterbacks, or you’ve coached quarterbacks, you know as you’re training a guy, as he’s practicing, or as he’s in a meeting, if he’s going through the right process to be good and to play well,” Richt said. “Sometimes you have to be patient. You’re like, ‘Well you’re being patient with a fifth-year senior.’ But we’re also being patient with a first-year starter.”
The quarterback who some fans wanted benched now leads the SEC in pass efficiency rating. His passing yardage isn’t spectacular, but Mason is verging on putting himself in Georgia’s record book.
Mason has completed 68.4 percent of his passes this season, which would break the single-season school record of 65.0, set by Bobo in 1997.
“He’s probably gotten the most out of his ability than anybody that I’ve ever had,” Bobo said.
Mason’s current pass efficiency rating (158.12) is just behind Aaron Murray for the second best in any Georgia season. Murray did that last year and also holds the record of 174.82 for his 2012 season.
“As Hutson’s become more comfortable, he’s begun to take over games and make more plays,” senior receiver Chris Conley said. “No one expected this out of him. Earlier this season there were a lot of naysayers, a lot of doubters, but we’ve believed in him, because we saw what he can do. Hopefully he continues to do it, because this running game isn’t slowing down, and with this passing game picking up like that, this offense can be dangerous.”
It’s not faint praise to call Mason merely efficient or a game manager. That’s usually all that has been required of him, thanks to Georgia’s dominant running game.
“I think one thing we knew coming into this year was that we had really good backs, and that’s kind of the one area that we knew we were better than anyone else at,” Mason said.
But Mason has also been effective enough through the second half of the season to burn the defense for focusing too much on the running game.
Eight of Mason’s touchdown passes have come in the past three games. There have also been a number of completed deep balls. Todd Gurley still owns the team’s longest pass of the season -- a 50-yarder against Vanderbilt -- but Mason has twice as many passes of more than 20 yards in the past five games as he had in the first six.
The turnaround came for Mason when he adopted a “let it rip” attitude, rather than trying too hard to not make mistakes. And in doing so, he hasn’t turned the ball over, as it turned out.
“I think Hutson’s deal this year was only having one shot at it and wanting to be perfect, not wanting to make a mistake,” Richt said. “And I think it kept him from cutting the ball loose, like he had done all along in all the practices we watched. When he finally said, ‘I’m gonna get back to dropping back, hitching up and ripping the ball,’ He’s done extremely well.”
Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott is likely to be the first-team All-SEC quarterback. Alabama’s Blake Sims might have the edge for second team, but Mason is at least in the conversation now.
He’s not as spectacular as Auburn’s Nick Marshall and doesn’t have the passing numbers of South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson. But Mason has been “super-efficient,” as Richt put it, which for Georgia has been good enough to at least be in position to win the SEC East.
“Honestly, I said it from the beginning, I just want to win a championship. That’s all that my mind is really set on,” Mason said. “I’d trade the completion record for an SEC championship, completely. Any time you have an opportunity to break a record, that usually means you’re winning games.”