Composure a key element for UGA offense

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
7:00
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ATHENS, Ga. -- If Aaron Murray's work on Georgia's final touchdown drive against LSU looked precise, it's because he and the Bulldogs' offense have had more than enough practice in such situations to help it appear so seamless.

Certainly a fifth-year quarterback should have a full grasp of his offensive scheme -- and clearly he did in completing all four of his passes for 55 yards on a drive that ended with Justin Scott-Wesley's 25-yard touchdown catch -- but a variety of factors beyond competent quarterback play helped the Bulldogs earn their game-winning score.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/John BazemoreGeorgia quarterback Aaron Murray has thrown for 11 touchdowns and three interceptions this season.
“No. 1, there's a lot of maturity on the offensive side of the football, a lot of guys that have been in situations, been in big games – maybe not like a situation to that exact degree, but they've been in situations where they've had pressure moments and made plays,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “I think they were able to fall back on some of that experience.”

It's also easy for the group to maintain its confidence when it has enjoyed such a high level of success. Despite already playing three top-10 opponents, Georgia is sixth nationally in total offense with an average of 554 yards per game.

“The week before versus North Texas when it was, 'Were y'all panicking when it was 21-21 all of a sudden,?' I was like, 'No, we were fine.' We're a very mature group of guys,” Murray said. “We feel like we're one of the best offenses in the country and we can score when we want. When we take each play at a time and stay focused on that play, we're very confident that we can do some special things on the field. So we're not worried at all. We're like, 'Hey, it's our time to go out there and score. We've done this before. Let's relax and go out there and play.' "

It helps that Murray and the offense -- a group that remains largely intact from the 2012 group that broke Georgia's all-time scoring record -- have already been in these situations plenty of times in practices and in games.

Of course the two-minute drive from 2012 that sits front-and-center in most Georgia fans' minds is one that was unsuccessful – the one that died inside Alabama's 5-yard line in the SEC championship game with a spot in the BCS national title game on the line. But the Bulldogs actually thrived in such situations last fall, driving to score six times inside the final two minutes of a half, often in close games where the they desperately needed a shot in the arm.

“I think it has a lot to do with age,” Murray said. “Last year, we had a bunch of one-minute drives. At Clemson this year, we had a one-minute drive, so we've done it before.”

There is certainly some advantage that comes with experience in high-pressure situations. Of the 11 Bulldogs on the field when Scott-Wesley scored the game-winning touchdown, nine have been at Georgia for at least three seasons – and the time spent working together, developing a working knowledge of what Bobo might call with a game on the line, paid off.

“That's definitely not the first time I've seen that drive. I've seen that drive a couple times in 7-on-7s, I've seen it a couple times in practice,” receiver Chris Conley said. “The funny thing is I can actually recall the times I've seen us execute that -- not the same set of plays, but I've seen it work out like that in other situations. It was quite artistic."

In truth, Georgia's offense has struggled more when it works on two-minute situations in practice, Bobo said. The coaches often make the practice scenarios as difficult as possible -- like maybe they must drive 70 yards for a touchdown without a timeout at their disposal -- and force Murray and the offense to go to work.

“I will say that over this past year-and-a-half, we've put the offense in some very stressful situations in practice where you've had to overcome in practice and you've had to make plays and you've had to execute,” Conley said. “I think that the offense has done a great job of practicing in those situations and making the plays. I think it's helped us when we're in the game.”

Bobo said the offense only gets the high-pressure touchdown about 20 percent of the time in the challenging practice scenarios. But it still had two timeouts available and didn't even need them in order to drive for the winning points in the actual game against LSU.

Out of the five plays preceding Scott-Wesley's touchdown, four achieved first downs. The other, a 9-yard completion to tight end Arthur Lynch, nearly moved the chains. And an 18-yard run by freshman J.J. Green on the final play before the touchdown pass caught the Tigers' defense completely off guard just as much as Murray's scoring pass to a wide-open Scott-Wesley.

It was as precise as one could possibly expect an offense to function considering the situation, and the Bulldogs pulled it all off perfectly.

Scott-Wesley credited the offense's balance between a collection of playmakers for forcing defenses to cover the whole field. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said the offensive line's protection on that drive and throughout the game helped Murray stay clean to complete key passes. And Bobo added that the collective intellect within the group allows him keep his entire playbook open when necessary.

Those were only some of the factors that helped Georgia scorch LSU for 494 yards overall and blow past the Tigers on the final possession. When that collection of factors all click together like they did on last Saturday's final drive, the Bulldogs might be as impressive as any offense in the country.

“It was amazing,” defensive lineman Garrison Smith said. “Murray looked like Tom Brady out there. He looked like he was just leading the troops, marching them down the field, and they made some big plays. That's what it's all about.”

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