Georgia Bulldogs: A.J. Green
Today, we'll look at No. 3: The 2006 class that will forever carry a “what-if” label because of massive potential that was somewhat unfulfilled despite posting two top-10 rankings.
The contributors: There were many valuable role players in this class: names like receiver Kris Durham, fullback Shaun Chapas, cornerback and return man Prince Miller, linebacker Darryl Gamble, offensive linemen Josh and Chris Davis and defensive end Demarcus Dobbs. Several members of that group made it onto NFL rosters at some point after their time in Athens. Durham was the team's most valuable receiver early in the 2010 season, while A.J. Green served a four-game suspension, and finished that season with 659 receiving yards that helped him pop up on NFL radars after his first several seasons on campus were filled with injuries.
The letdowns: Some of the biggest names in the class (linebackers Darius Dewberry and Akeem Hebron, defensive end Brandon Wood, tight end Naderris Ward) failed to become major contributors in college. Ward, Tony Wilson, Michael Lemon and John Miller all left UGA before their careers were over. Safety Quintin Banks was set back by a series of injuries, derailing what could have been a solid career. And Kiante Tripp never seemed to settle into a position, perhaps wasting a career that could have been more productive had he not shuttled from location to location.
The results: With Stafford and Moreno leading the way, Georgia ranked among the top BCS contenders at the end of the 2007 season – one that ended with the Bulldogs hammering Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. Georgia opened the next season as the nation's No. 1 team, although injuries and a disappointing defense helped the Bulldogs finish with a disappointing three losses. Stafford, Moreno and Allen left for the draft after that season, and Jones left after the next. The group was full of high-end talent and the early results were mostly positive, but Florida's dominance (BCS titles in 2006 and 2008, an SEC East title in 2009) overshadows anything that this Georgia class accomplished in college.
Today, we'll look at No. 5: The 2008 class that produced a couple of All-Americans and perhaps the greatest wide receiver in school history.
The contributors: Several players from this class made a major impact at Georgia. In addition to the previously mentioned players, offensive lineman Cordy Glenn, kicker Blair Walsh, receiver Tavarres King, cornerback Sanders Commings and defensive linemen DeAngelo Tyson and Cornelius Washington all performed well enough to become NFL draft picks. Walsh slumped as a senior, but had two of the best seasons by a UGA place-kicker during his sophomore and junior seasons. King didn't generate the attention that Green did, but his career totals of 2,602 receiving yards and 21 touchdown catches are fourth and third in school history.
The letdowns: About half of this class failed to contribute much of anything. Running back/linebacker Richard Samuel played a minor role for most of his career although he was the No. 35 overall prospect on the ESPN 150. For a variety of reasons, several members of the class either never enrolled at Georgia (Xavier Avery, Toby Jackson), transferred (A.J. Harmon, Marcus Dowtin, Dontavius Jackson, Makiri Pugh, Nick Williams) or struggled with health issues (Bryce Ros, Jonathan Owens) that prevented them from completing their careers in Athens.
The results: The talent in this class was impressive -- 11 players from the group made it onto an NFL roster -- but there were enough flameouts that we won't rank it higher on the list. Nonetheless, many of these players helped the Bulldogs win back-to-back SEC East titles as upperclassmen after a disappointing 6-7 result in 2010. With Green, who looks like a potential Hall of Famer at this point, headlining the group, Georgia's 2008 class definitely belongs on our list.
The ESPN Ultimate 300 looks back at the best recruits since 2006, and it’s hardly surprising that the SEC made its presence felt in the rankings.
Here’s a look at the top five SEC recruits in the Ultimate ESPN 300:
This year, the Pro Bowl changed its selection format. Former NFL greats Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders drafted from a pool of Pro Bowl players who were selected earlier in the season. Team Rice and Team Sanders went back-and-forth with their picks, and four of the first 10 players in the first Pro Bowl draft were former SEC players, including former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers), who went No. 3 overall to Sanders.
Tennessee led the SEC with four selections. The game is Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
The 24 former SEC players selected to this year's Pro Bowl:
- Eddie Lacy, Alabama (Green Bay Packers)
- Jason Witten, Tennessee (Dallas Cowboys)
- Jason Peters, Arkansas (Philadelphia Eagles)
- Mike Pouncey, Florida (Miami Dolphins)
- Ben Grubbs, Auburn (New Orleans Saints)
- Evan Mathis, Alabama (Philadelphia Eagles)
- Greg Hardy, Ole Miss (Carolina Panthers)
- Kyle Williams, LSU (Buffalo Bills)
- Justin Smith, Missouri (San Francisco 49ers)
- Marcell Dareus, Alabama (Buffalo Bills)
- Justin Houston, Georgia (Kansas City Chiefs)
- John Abraham, South Carolina (Arizona Cardinals)
- Patrick Willis, Ole Miss (San Francisco 49ers)
- Patrick Peterson, LSU (Arizona Cardinals)
- Joe Haden, Florida (Cleveland Browns)
- Tim Jennings, Georgia (San Francisco 49ers)
Since taking over as Georgia's quarterback in 2010, there has been a seemingly endless parade of skill players in and out of the Bulldogs' offensive lineup -- from A.J. Green's four-game absence to open Murray's freshman season, to regular tailback shuffling in 2011, to debilitating injuries at receiver last season, to considerable upheaval over the last two weeks of this season.
And he needs to be.
In Saturday's noon ET game against No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC) Murray must deal with his biggest personnel challenge to date. With Georgia already without Malcolm Mitchell, who tore his ACL in the opener against Clemson, the Bulldogs lost two more key wideouts, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett, last week against Tennessee. Tailback Keith Marshall also went down with a season-ending knee injury last Saturday, joining fellow star tailback Todd Gurley on the sidelines as the Bulldogs' high-scoring offense started to sputter without so many key pieces.
“I would say it affected not only the offense, but the team,” fullback Quayvon Hicks said. “It was players that are not only playmakers on the field, but great teammates. Losing them and knowing that they're not going to be out there, it's something that you've got to just suck it up and keep going.”
Murray and No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0) barely salvaged the game, forcing overtime with a last-minute touchdown and winning 34-31 with a field goal in the extra session. The lone constant in Georgia's lineup over the last three-plus seasons, Murray's experience adjusting to the personnel around him might have been the difference in the outcome.
“You never really can truly practice everything that might happen in a game,” Bobo said. “So I think it's been a lot of experience for Aaron, obviously, to have to go through that and the game plan altered in the middle of a game. And then obviously myself with calling plays. You've just got to adjust. That's football, and I think any time you've got experience to draw back from instead of maybe something that you practiced, it's always beneficial.”
Injuries will force the Bulldogs to do some major adjusting over at least the next couple of weeks. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Gurley remains doubtful to play against Missouri and Bennett is probably out until at least the Nov. 2 game against Florida.
That leaves Bulldogs with little to no experience suddenly in the mix for playing time. Richt has mentioned walk-ons Kenny Towns and Michael Erdman as possible fill-ins at receiver, along with redshirt freshman Blake Tibbs, who has yet to appear in a game.
The running game could once again be in the hands of a group of true freshmen if Gurley is unable to go. It might even mean that A.J. Turman -- a clear redshirt candidate before Marshall's injury made that outcome less of a certainty -- joins fellow freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas in the backfield.
“[Turman] seems to be excited about getting reps with the ones or twos or whatever reps that he's getting right now,” Richt said. “He doesn't look like a guy who's bummed out about an opportunity, a possible opportunity. He seems to be a guy who's kind of anxious for it, so that helps.”
Georgia's running game could be a key factor in Saturday's game. The Bulldogs' still-developing defense will have its hands full with a Missouri offense that is one of only five in the country averaging at least 255 yards on the ground and 285 through the air. The UGA backs' ability to extend drives and keep the defense on the sideline will almost certainly be of major importance, and last year's game against the Tigers was not especially encouraging in that department.
Missouri actually outgained Georgia 371 yards to 355 last year and limited the Bulldogs' running game to just 113 yards -- 44 of which came on a single Gurley run. Georgia needs a more productive performance from Green, Douglas and the other backs if Gurley isn't there to power the Bulldogs' running game.
Otherwise, Georgia will lean more heavily on the injury-depleted receiving corps led by Chris Conley -- who would have redshirted in 2011 if not for injuries that led to his debut in the fourth game of that season.
In other words, Murray is far from the only offensive player on the roster who had to adapt on the fly because of personnel changes.
“It's definitely caused us to be mature,” Conley said. “And for guys to learn how to play in that situation, it's something that you're not comfortable doing naturally. Over the last couple of years, we've had multiple guys who had to become comfortable doing that -- stepping up, learning things on the fly, going in on a Saturday like they've been doing it all along.”
Georgia needs that trend to continue Saturday with some of the new faces in the lineup and old faces who will attempt new things. If they can handle this adjustment as capably as they have the others over the last couple of seasons, the Bulldogs still might be able to ride out their recent rash of debilitating injuries.
ATHENS, Ga. – As an SEC West school, LSU is hardly a fixture on Georgia's annual football schedule. But when the Tigers and Bulldogs do get together, the results are almost always memorable.
Just think back over the past decade. Two meetings in the SEC championship game – one won by each school. The phantom celebration penalty against Georgia receiver A.J. Green in 2009, helping pave the way for LSU's comeback victory. Georgia putting huge point totals on LSU's defending BCS champion teams in 2004 and 2008.
There's a lot to remember – and just like in Saturday's meeting between No. 6 LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) and No. 9 Georgia (2-1, 1-0) – there are often major SEC and BCS implications in play.
“[I told the younger players] any game can go down to the last second, but what kind of fight that they're going to have to be ready for,” said Georgia fifth-year senior receiver Rantavious Wooten, one of the few Bulldogs who were on the team when LSU last visited Athens in 2009. “They've got aspirations just like we do. They want a championship and we want a championship and this game right here, this is the game for it. So I just let them know what to expect and how it's going to be and just to get ready for it.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt is 3-4 against LSU since arriving at UGA in 2001 and Tigers coach Les Miles is 2-2 against the Bulldogs. Let's take a look at the last five times their programs squared off:
In one of the most bizarre games of Richt's tenure, Georgia's defense thoroughly dominated the first half. LSU didn't muster a single first down and was in danger of falling down by a big margin, but Georgia receivers dropped a pair of potential first-half touchdown passes and LSU punt returner Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu took a kick back for a touchdown to make it 10-7 Georgia at halftime. The second half was a completely different story, as the Bulldogs committed a couple of turnovers, LSU's pounding rushing attack began to have its intended effect and Todd Grantham's defense seemed helpless as the Tigers rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns after intermission, turning the game into a rout.
Oct. 3, 2009 (Athens): No. 4 LSU 20, No. 18 Georgia 13
This one will forever be remembered among Georgia fans for a referee's questionable decision to penalize Georgia superstar Green for excessive celebration following his leaping, go-ahead touchdown catch with 1:09 to play, giving Georgia its first lead at 13-12. The penalty forced the Bulldogs to kick off from their own 15 and LSU return specialist Trindon Holliday made them pay by returning the kickoff to the Georgia 43, with a 5-yard penalty against the Bulldogs on the kickoff moving LSU even closer to the UGA end zone. Two plays later, Charles Scott rushed for his second touchdown of the fourth quarter, a 33-yard run with 46 seconds to play allowing LSU to improve to 5-0.
Oct. 25, 2008 (Baton Rouge): No. 7 Georgia 52, No. 13 LSU 38
As wild as the ending of the 2009 game was, this one was crazy from the very beginning. Georgia linebacker Darryl Gamble returned an interception for a 40-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and added a 53-yard pick six in the game's closing minutes as the Bulldogs hung half-a-hundred on LSU's porous defense. The Tigers surrendered 50-plus twice that season – the first time in school history that had happened – leading Miles to dump co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto after the season in favor of former Tennessee coordinator John Chavis, who has been in Baton Rouge ever since.
2005 SEC Championship Game (Atlanta): No. 13 Georgia 34, No. 3 LSU 14
Although fellow receiver Sean Bailey caught a pair of first-quarter touchdowns from D.J. Shockley that got Georgia off on the right foot, Bulldogs senior Bryan McClendon – now the team's running backs coach – might have delivered the play of the game when he blocked a punt midway through the second quarter deep in LSU territory. That helped Georgia score to take a commanding 21-7 halftime lead which LSU never threatened. The Bulldogs' defense also did its job that day, limiting an LSU rushing attack that dominated in their 2003 meeting in Atlanta to just 74 rushing yards.
Oct. 2, 2004 (Athens): No. 3 Georgia 45, No. 13 LSU 16
Nick Saban's final game against Georgia while at LSU ended with a humiliating loss, as the Tigers surrendered the most points allowed by an LSU defense since Florida hung 56 on them in 1996. Georgia quarterback David Greene threw only 19 passes, but set a school record by completing five of them for touchdowns. The Bulldogs had lost twice to Saban's Tigers in 2003 – 17-10 in Baton Rouge and 34-13 in the SEC Championship Game – but they quickly exacted a degree of revenge by jumping out to a 24-0 lead before LSU could answer. The Bulldogs also generated three turnovers and sacked LSU quarterbacks Marcus Randall and JaMarcus Russell five times.
Both teams have been ranked in the top-20 in all seven of their meetings in the Richt era, and this will be the second time they've both been in the top-10. While not every meeting between the two has produced a close contest, they've all been memorable – and almost always impacted their respective championship chases.
“They've been great games. ... Just about every one of them, both teams are ranked teams and at least in the Top 25,” Richt said. “It is a cross-conference rival, so it doesn't hold quite the weight of an Eastern Division [game] when it comes to who plays in Atlanta. We could lose the game and still control our destiny, and they could lose the game and still control their destiny, so it's not do-or-die as far as league play, but it's very important for any national title hopes.”
1thatguy: Who will be the surprise player of the season next year? Last year nobody at all talked about Todd Gurley before the season but he ended up being amazing. What players do you think have the potential to impress like that next year and have been under the radar?
Radi Nabulsi: That depends on what you mean by “under the radar.” Can a four-star recruit be considered a sleeper? Last fall we wrote extensively about Gurley and while few, if any, predicted he would lead all running backs in the SEC in total yards, it should not have been surprising that he started, considering how Gurley’s coaches and teammates raved about him. So let’s limit the scope to new signees, not in the ESPN 300, who could start next year. Those signees in the ESPN 300 are expected to contribute early so they would not really be a surprise.
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Mark Richt’s critics might once have had a point when they observed that his coaching staff gave veterans too much of a benefit of the doubt when it came to playing them over talented young players. The last two seasons have neutralized those criticisms, as it’s hard to imagine Georgia having won the last two SEC East titles without extensive contributions from brand new Bulldogs.
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His coach at Goose Creek (S.C) High School, Chuck Reedy -- a former college coach himself -- even wrestled with where to play Terry before Georgia decided to deploy him at wideout when he enrolled earlier this month. And Reedy amusedly recalled a conversation concerning that very subject with Terry’s lead UGA recruiter, tight ends coach John Lilly, from last fall.
“I said, ‘I really think he’s a running back. Even though that’s not where he played when he was younger, we played him there the last two years about half the time,’” Reedy said. “But he just made a lot of plays, was really instinctive and had good vision and all those things. I said, ‘I’m just not sure that’s not where he needs to play.’
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ESPN top five classes: Florida, USC, Texas, Georgia, Notre Dame
Georgia’s ranking: 4
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“In high school, I got away with a lot of things. When I got up here and I tried to do them things I did in high school, the DBs were all over me,” laughed Tibbs, a redshirting freshman who starred at Martin Luther King High School in Lithonia, Ga. “Really, you’ve got to tighten up your form and your technique. And when you do that, Coach [Tony] Ball teaches you technique and if you use it, if they don’t throw you the ball, at least you’re going to be open.”
Because of the loaded depth chart when he arrived on campus -- seniors Tavarres King and Marlon Brown led the receivers, with sophomores Michael Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Conley already having gained considerable experience in 2011 -- Tibbs was a strong candidate to redshirt from the get-go. He admittedly was unhappy with that status at the beginning of the season, but said he came to realize it was beneficial as time progressed.
“Michael getting hurt was just a very sad thing,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose fifth-ranked Bulldogs face No. 6 South Carolina on Saturday. “We were having quite a good practice yesterday. It was the very last play and I was thinking what a good day it was, what a good practice it was and then that happened.”
Bennett was blocking cornerback Devin Bowman when his knee buckled and popped audibly. Although he was able to walk off the practice field as coaches and teammates gathered for the end of practice, a post-practice MRI confirmed the UGA training staff’s fears that Bennett would miss the rest of the season after already surpassing his 2011 production in the first five games of 2012.
“I saw him go down, but then he got up and started walking and everybody thought it was going to be all right,” senior receiver Marlon Brown said. “I told him to call me that night and he called me and told me what happened. It just [stinks] for him.”
Although Richt said Bennett’s absence will be costly because of the toughness and work ethic he helped instill in the team, he and the Bulldogs can take solace that receiver is one of the deeper positions on the roster. Brown (68) and Tavarres King (61.4) both rank in the top to in the SEC in receiving yards per game. And other wideouts like Malcolm Mitchell, Rantavious Wooten and Chris Conley have performed well in big games.
Richt said Mitchell -- who spent most of his time at cornerback this season prior to Saturday’s win against Tennessee after totaling 665 receiving yards last season -- will continue to be available on defense. And he is not ready to burn freshman Blake Tibbs’ redshirt yet, either.
“I think we’re still going to be fine,” Richt said.
“I think Derek’s an excellent coach. I think he’s a guy that, given the opportunity, will turn that thing around because if you compare the players that they have there now to before, it’s really night and day. I think he’s cleaned up a lot that was left over and I think offensively, they’ve got a really good system. They’ve got some skill guys that are going to play in the league. They’ve got a tight end that can play in the league. Their quarterback will be in the league. They’ve got NFL players and they’ve got some talent. We’ll have to prepare and be ready to play because I think they’ve done a good job.” -- Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham on facing Derek Dooley and Tennessee on Saturday
“Two years ago I wasn’t even looking at the defense. I was just so focused on getting the snap and going through my progressions. Now I’m able to see the defense and start picking up tendencies during the week, during the game and able to focus in on exactly what I’m doing and I think that’s why my decisions have been faster. I know where I’m going and making more plays.” -- Third-year starting quarterback Aaron Murray on how experience has helped him settle down and read defenses before taking a snap
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Luckily for Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and quarterback Aaron Murray -- who are entrusted with distributing the ball among a deep group of receivers -- it’s quite the opposite. And that pays off, as opposing defenses are unable to focus their attention solely on one or two top wideouts.
Bennett serves as an excellent example of the selfless attitude that prevails among those at his position. He posted a career-best 110 receiving yards on four catches against Florida Atlantic, but had only two grabs for 10 yards Saturday against Vanderbilt, when senior Marlon Brown (5-114) became the centerpiece of the passing game.
And Bennett was perfectly pleased with that turn of events.
“We don’t have any guys over here saying, ‘I want more balls,’ getting ticked because the ball’s not thrown to them,” Bennett said. “If one guy has a great game like Marlon, I couldn’t be happier for him right now because he has battled injury after injury and now he’s having this great year and I’m so happy for him.
“If he’s going to have a great game and me or [Tavarres King] aren’t getting as many balls, that’s fine with us. We’re just really here to get the win and if one guy shows out one game and one guy doesn’t, that’s fine.”
That attitude has worked well thus far as Bennett, Brown and King have produced highly similar numbers. Bennett has a team-high 275 receiving yards on 19 catches, followed closely by King’s 269 yards on 14 catches and Brown’s 16 grabs for 264 -- and each of them has at least one 100-yard game so far this season.
The group is also putting together one of the most impressive runs of receiving consistency in Mark Richt’s tenure. The Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 SEC) have had a 100-yard receiver in all four games thus far entering this weekend's game against Tennessee (3-1, 0-1). That's the longest such streak since 2001, when the Bulldogs had a 100-yard receiver in six straight games in Richt’s debut season as head coach.
“It definitely makes my job a lot easier to know I have targets everywhere,” Murray said. “I can throw it to either side of the field and they’re not only going to catch it, but they’re making plays after the catch.”
Georgia’s streak of consecutive 100-yard games actually sits at five, taking into account King’s 205-yard effort last season in the Outback Bowl that set a UGA single-game record. And stretching further into last season’s results, the Bulldogs have had two more receivers post 100-yard outings -- Chris Conley had 126 yards last year against New Mexico State and Malcolm Mitchell had 126 against Tennessee -- giving Georgia eight 100-yard performances in the last 13 games by five different players.
“Around here at Georgia for the past two years, we’ve been having depth at receiver. That’s a good thing for everybody,” said Brown, who contributed three of those 100-yard games.
The number of explosive playmakers at Murray’s disposal will grow this week, with Mitchell returning to a more active role on offense after spending the vast majority of the first four games at cornerback. And King showed off more of the unselfish vibe that exists within the receiving corps on Tuesday by saying that any of them would be willing to sacrifice a play here and there to give Mitchell a chance to make an impact.
“That’s just another weapon,” King said. “That’s just another smooth weapon we’ve got in our arsenal. So it’s scary what we can do out wide.”
Georgia’s veteran wideouts no doubt learned about sharing while playing second fiddle to eventual first-round NFL pick A.J. Green, who never displayed the diva tendencies that plague many star receivers. But none among this group of Bulldogs carries Green’s next-big-thing pedigree, which helps keep everyone’s ego in check -- and reminds them to share credit with teammates who contributed to their standout performances.
“We’re very excited about the opportunities that we’re getting to make plays outside,” King said. “That’s due to what’s going on in the running game and how the offensive line is protecting Aaron and things of that sort. It’s a team effort. Every time we go for 100 or 20, it’s a team effort, but it’s very exciting to put those numbers up as a unit. It doesn’t matter who it is.”
Make no mistake about the group’s capabilities, however. The Bulldogs’ receivers might not be superstars in training like Green was at UGA between 2008 and 2010, but it’s pointless for a defense to focus solely on shutting down Brown when King has already flashed skills that will make him a likely NFL pick after this season. And it’s short-sighted to try only to take away the bomb to Mitchell when it leaves Bennett alone to find holes in a coverage scheme.
Georgia’s strength is in its depth -- Murray said the receivers are “probably the best group on our whole entire team” -- and that will make life difficult for even the best secondaries the Bulldogs will face down the stretch.
“The good thing about that is I feel like everybody knows what’s going on,” King said. “Everybody’s mature and it’s awesome to see a group of receivers that care about each other and the team and being the best that they can be all at the same time. It’s a cool deal.”
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And when the Bulldogs feature experienced quarterbacks -- as they do now with third-year starter Aaron Murray -- Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s predisposition toward throwing the deep ball becomes most clear.
“If you have a quarterback that you have enough confidence to drop back and sling it, you’ve got a chance to make some big plays. We do like a vertical passing game,” Richt said. “There’s a lot of people that love to throw it sideways a lot, and we’ll throw it a little bit sideways here and there, but we want to get it down the field. And if we get some matchups that we like to go deep, we will.”
Through three games, Murray and the Bulldogs have already utilized the deep ball effectively -- an area where he excelled as a freshman in 2010, but regressed last season.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Murray is 11-for-20 (55 percent) for 429 yards and three touchdowns on throws of 20 or more yards this season, with an average of 21.5 yards per attempt.
He completed 48.4 percent of his deep passes in 2010, including six touchdowns and one interception, before slipping back to 28.8 percent last year with 11 touchdowns and five picks.
There was an obvious difference between the first two seasons, Murray said, and it had nothing to do with his ability to execute the offense. Eventual first-round NFL draft pick A.J. Green made life much easier for then-freshman Murray before entering the draft after his standout 2010 season.
Now his success is based upon his growing knowledge of Georgia’s offensive scheme and his comfort level with his assortment of receivers.
“My freshman year, I think it was drop back and launch it to A.J. and just let him make a play," Murray said. "Now our playcall sheet right now compared to my freshman year is so much more complex and there are so many more different plays to get guys open across the whole field. It just opens things up and makes things a lot easier.”
In the Bulldogs’ 56-20 win against Florida Atlantic, Georgia had six different receivers -- Michael Bennett (67-yard long), Malcolm Mitchell (49), Justin Scott-Wesley (43), Arthur Lynch (36), Marlon Brown (34) and Tavarres King (28) -- catch a pass that covered 28 yards or more. In the first three games, all of them plus Rantavious Wooten have at least one catch of 36 yards or more.
King said Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Ken Malcome’s production in the running game is actually one of the most important factors in Georgia’s ability to throw deep because the tailbacks occupy opposing safeties’ attention and create favorable coverages for the receivers.
“We’ve got guys that can make plays down the field and having the backs that we have in Todd and Ken and Keith, those guys are phenomenal,” King said. “They help us out by running the ball very hard and being extremely effective in the running game. That just opens things up downfield for us.
“We’ve been able to make some plays downfield and do some great things and hopefully we can continue to do that and the coaches continue to have faith in us going downfield and making plays.”
They will as long as the Bulldogs keep connecting with such efficiency -- Murray ranks third among all FBS quarterbacks with 10.53 yards per pass attempt -- because it has certainly kept the skill position players happy so far.
“It’s real exciting,” said Bennett, who ranks fifth in the SEC with 88.3 receiving yards per game. “We’ve been getting into a lot of four-receiver sets and throwing the ball down the field a lot. It’s a receiver’s dream, really, so we’re just excited about what we can do this whole year.”
If Georgia’s tailbacks and offensive line continue to force opponents to respect the run, the receiving corps clearly includes multiple options for Murray to hit with deep passes. And as he continues to work with those wideouts, everyone develops a greater understanding of what to do and when to do it.
“There’s a fine line you walk of having confidence in yourself and going out there and just throwing aimlessly into coverages,” Murray said. “But the more reps you get, the more trust and confidence you have in yourself and the more the receivers know what’s going on.”
Murray has never looked more comfortable throwing the ball than he did against Florida Atlantic, against which he passed for a career-high 342 yards and averaged 24.4 yards per attempt.
He understands that the level of difficulty is about to increase this Saturday when Vanderbilt visits Sanford Stadium, followed by six more SEC games. That’s truly when Murray’s ability to connect with his receivers on deep passes might be the most important -- when the Bulldogs are locked in a close game and need a big play to swing momentum in their favor.
“There’s great strategy to it and it’s not easy to do, but when you get good at it, you can really shake some people up,” Richt said. “You can really put a hurting on some outstanding defenses -- and usually it’s the big play that will get a great defense a little bit uncomfortable to the point where you can break them down.
“It’s rare that you can just hammer a great defensive football team and make them submit. Somewhere along the line you’ve got to get a big play. It can be through the running game. It can be through the air, as well. But most big plays come through the air, at least for us.”
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