Experience key for Auburn against Murray

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
1:30
PM ET
AUBURN, Ala. -- Aaron Murray isn’t about to face his former team. He didn’t rush for 214 yards and two touchdowns last week, earning SEC player of the week honors. He’s not Nick Marshall.

But amidst all the injuries, Murray has remained the one constant for this Georgia football team.

Despite losing multiple weapons on offense, Murray is still third in the SEC with 2,477 yards passing and tied for second with 20 touchdowns. On Saturday, the senior threw his 115th career touchdown pass to become the league’s all-time leader.

“He’s good at everything does,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He can hurt you in the pass game. He’s a veteran guy. He’s pretty fast when he takes off, and he knows how to run an offense. He’s one of the better quarterback to ever play in this league, and I think that says it all.”

But Auburn has an ace up its sleeve when Murray comes to town this weekend. First-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has been around the SEC, and he faced the Georgia quarterback twice while he was running the defense for South Carolina.

As a freshman, Murray finished 14-of-21 for 192 yards against the Gamecocks with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked three times. The next year, he fared better, throwing for 248 yards and four touchdowns, but Georgia still lost. He’s won a lot of games in his career, but he’s yet to beat Johnson.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray's experience will help against Auburn, but he'll face a defense that can lean on its defensive coordinator's experience.
“He's gotten better each year,” Johnson said. “You could tell he was a winner and he was a playmaker in his early years, but I've noticed how much better he feels when he needs to move in the pocket. He knows when he can extend the play, and he's doing some things that a veteran, if you will, knows how to do.”

Johnson will have his unit prepared and Auburn has improved dramatically under Johnson.

The Tigers are up 44 spots from last year in scoring defense (66th to 22nd). They have allowed 204 points through the first 10 games, the fewest points Auburn has allowed through 10 games since 2008. They’re also second in the SEC in red zone defense.

“He's outstanding,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “There's a reason why Auburn is playing so much better on defense. He's got a long history of going to different places, and within the very first season, turning that thing around statistically in a big way. He's done it again here at Auburn.

“As much as running the football has been big for Auburn and Nick Marshall playing great has been big, the defense has been a big part of this turnaround as well.”

Johnson isn’t the only one who knows the Bulldogs well. First-year defensive line coach Rodney Garner spent 15 seasons in Athens, Ga., before accepting the same role with Auburn in the offseason. He knows this Georgia team inside and out.

But familiarity with a team only goes so far.

“I think people know what we're going to do,” Richt said. “So can they out-execute us? Same thing with us, can we out-execute them? After a while, there's really not many secrets. The reality is we all get each other's film. We get every single game film that we want, so you can't really hide what you do.”

There’s a lot at stake for both teams Saturday. Murray is hoping to keep Georgia alive in the SEC East, but it’s up to Johnson and this Auburn defense to stop him. The Tigers are just two wins away from a trip to Atlanta for the conference title game.

Greg Ostendorf | email

Auburn/SEC reporter

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