- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Georgia’s football season is halfway over and the Bulldogs will take this weekend off before resuming SEC play next Saturday at Kentucky. We’ll take a look at a different position group each day this week and evaluate how it performed in the first half of the season in our DawgNation midseason report cards.
ATHENS, Ga. -- The overall feeling about Georgia’s quarterback position changed in one night in Columbia, S.C., but it was not entirely All-SEC junior Aaron Murray's fault.
Through five games, it appeared as if Murray had turned a corner and was now legitimately among the nation’s top players at his position. But passing under relentless pressure from South Carolina’s talented defensive front, Murray was ineffective and often inaccurate.
Murray enjoyed a highly productive first half of the season and will still probably post one of the better statistical seasons by a quarterback in Georgia history. But he can do wonders for his reputation as a big-game player by performing more consistently against a feisty Florida defense at the end of the month.
He finally posted a couple of wins against ranked teams at the end of last season, but criticisms that he can’t win the big one will lurk until he comes up huge against a top-tier team -- and he hasn’t done that yet in two-plus seasons as a starter, particularly in Saturday’s 35-7 loss to South Carolina.
Let’s examine the first half for Murray and his fellow quarterbacks:
QUARTERBACK REPORT CARD
STARTER (stats): Aaron Murray (100-161, 1,487 yards, 12 TDs, 4 INTs). Without question, Murray is the top dog here. The South Carolina game wasn’t pretty, but Georgia relies heavily on Murray’s leadership at the line of scrimmage and in the huddle and he has done a fantastic job overall this season.
RESERVES (stats): Christian LeMay (1-2, 43 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT), Parker Welch (1-2, 15 yards), Hutson Mason (redshirting), Faton Bauta (redshirting). This group has played only in mop-up duty, with the biggest disappointment being LeMay’s turnover-filled performance against Florida Atlantic, where he lost a fumble and threw a pick six. The plan to redshirt Mason remains intact, although Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said Mason still would have been the first quarterback into the game against South Carolina if anything had happened to Murray.
HIGHLIGHT: Murray was masterful in a three-game stretch leading up to the South Carolina game, completing 75 percent of his passes (52-for-69) for 878 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions against Florida Atlantic, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Together with a greatly improved running game, he had Georgia ranked among the nation’s top offenses.
LOWLIGHT: The South Carolina game was one of the low-water marks of Murray’s career. He came in as a darkhorse in the Heisman Trophy race and left having taken a sound beating where he seemed to lose a bit of poise in the face of South Carolina’s pass rush. He finished 11-for-31 for 109 yards and an interception.
OVERALL EVALUATION: Georgia remains in fine shape with Murray at the controls, although the South Carolina game was an enormous disappointment for Murray and an offense (and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo) who had been so dynamic in previous games against lesser competition.
LeMay performed poorly in his limited work -- so much so that the coaches used walk-on Welch ahead of him against Vanderbilt -- so Mason would probably still be the go-to option if Murray suffers an injury in a big game.
It will be interesting to see how Murray rebounds from his performance against the Gamecocks when Georgia faces Florida on Oct. 27. He is 1-1 against the Gators so far, but their defense will certainly try to attack the Bulldogs’ offensive front the way South Carolina’s did in an attempt to rattle the Bulldogs’ quarterback. He’ll have to perform better against the Gators or his critics will have even more fodder for their attacks that Murray is not a big-game quarterback.
POSITION GRADE: B