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Thursday, March 7, 2013
Spring questions: Can offense repeat?

By David Ching

Editor’s note: Each day this week, we’ll ask a question that Georgia’s football team faces this spring as it moves toward the 2013 season. Today’s question: Statistically, Georgia enjoyed one of the finest offensive seasons in school history last fall. What must a group that returns 10 starters do to improve in 2013?

ATHENS, Ga. -- No Georgia offense has ever scored more frequently than the 2012 bunch that averaged 37.8 points per game and ranked among the nation’s most explosive units.

That sets the bar awfully high for a 2013 offense that returns 10 starters, but they know they must be even more ambitious this offseason if they are to match that production, much less exceed it.

“[We want to] be the best offense in the country, plain and simple,” center David Andrews said. “That was our goal last year and it’s our goal pretty much every year. That’s what we want to do, but this team hasn’t done anything yet. 2012’s over. It’s 2013, so we’re going to have to make our own path and it’s going to be tough, but we’ve got all the tools to do it.”

That they do, starting with a fourth-year starter at quarterback in Aaron Murray. In his last time out, Murray torched a Nebraska defense that came in leading the nation in pass defense for 427 yards and five touchdowns in the Capital One Bowl. That capped a season where he set several new UGA passing records and moved within reach of a number of SEC career passing marks.

Aaron Murray
The Georgia offense hopes to be celebrating more big plays in 2013 after a banner 2012 campaign.
But even Murray recognizes the offense -- himself included -- could have performed more consistently than it did in 2012. Cases in point: flat efforts against South Carolina and Florida, plus slow starts in a handful of games.

“Last year we were far from perfect,” Murray said. “Obviously we had some great games and offensively I feel like we had a great season, but we still feel like we left some points on the board and we have a lot to work on at every position.

“It was a great season offensively. I’m very happy with what we did, but we can get better. I know myself personally I can get better and look forward to doing that over this spring and summer and camp heading into the season.”

Georgia possessed arguably the nation’s most explosive offense a season ago with a nation-leading average of 7.09 yards per play. The Bulldogs ranked third nationally with 90 plays of 20 yards or more, third with 45 plays of 30-plus, second with 28 plays of 40-plus, tied for second with 15 plays of 50-plus and tied for third with nine plays that covered at least 60 yards.

Two of their top big-play threats are gone in receivers Tavarres King and Marlon Brown, but the Bulldogs still have tailbacks Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Chris Conley and tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome.

In other words, the skill-position talent is fine -- plus the Bulldogs return every significant member of the offensive line depth chart, so there is no good reason to doubt the group’s potential. But they still must strive to perform more consistently from series to series and game to game.

“Every guy on this team knows that he can get better and we’ve got to keep working,” Murray said.

No SEC team delivered more big plays than Georgia in 2012, while the Bulldogs ranked third in the league in total offense (467.6 ypg) and scoring (37.8 ppg). However, they ranked in the bottom half of the league standings in turnovers (19, seventh in the SEC), sacks allowed (27, seventh) and penalty yards per game (53.5, 11th).

Granted penalties are a team issue, but the Bulldogs received no shortage of offsides, personal foul and holding calls that slowed down drives last fall. So that’s another area the Bulldogs will certainly address as they seek to surpass their production from 2012.

“We want to beat those numbers,” Mitchell said. “That’s the only way to progress. The year before, we set the standard for last year. And now last year’s standard is what we’re going to try to meet this year.”