Georgia Bulldogs: Faton Bauta
ATHENS, Ga. -- Once again, Georgia took home the victory on G-Day.
The Bulldogs' annual spring game ended with the Red Team, comprised mostly of the first-team offense, defeating the Black Team, headed by most of the first-team defense, 27-24 in front of an announced crowd of 46,073 inside Sanford Stadium.
You can learn only so much from spring games, but there are always some nuggets here and there that you can take away from them.
1. Mason looks pretty comfortable: It's easy when the quarterback isn't getting hit, but Hutson Mason looked very comfortable on Saturday. He was quick with his delivery, very accurate and very sharp. Again, he wasn't asked to do too much, but you can tell that he's more than comfortable running coordinator Mike Bobo's offense. I mean, he has been there for what feels like a decade now, so he better be. Even without some of his best targets in Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley (both were out this spring recovering from ACL injuries), he didn't skip a beat, as he passed for 241 yards and a touchdown on 18 of 27. "I felt good about my accuracy and my completions," Mason said. "Just wish I would have thrown the deep ball a little better."
2. Floyd and Johnson could be a solid combo: There's no question that Georgia's defense still needs a lot of work. The secondary had its issues and the defensive line is still looking for more playmakers. But one thing that really stood out on Saturday was the play of defensive lineman Toby Johnson and linebacker Leonard Floyd. Both required constant double teams on Saturday. We all knew Floyd had the potential to be a very, very special player, and he constantly harassed the Red Team's quarterbacks. He finished with six tackles and broke up two passes. Floyd can play with his hand down when the Dawgs are in a 4-3 formation or at outside linebacker in a 3-4. As for Johnson, he could be one to watch for the Dawgs this year. He made his way to the quarterback early and often in the game before the Black Team's line adjusted to put an extra body on him. Still, he was able to break through even with that extra set of arms to battle.
3. Gurley ran with purpose: There has been plenty of talk this spring about running back Todd Gurley's toughness, but he didn't look like he was holding back on Saturday. While he was limited to just six rushes (32 yards and a touchdown) and caught three passes (38 yards), Gurley was trying his hardest to bowl guys over. Coach Mark Richt sat Gurley down earlier in the spring to talk about his toughness and his practice habits, and it clearly paid off. Gurley didn't look hesitant, despite still not being 100 percent with nagging ankle issues. We don't know if Gurley will ever truly be healthy at Georgia, but it's a good sign that he doesn't have an issue playing through pain. He just wanted to deliver it Saturday.
4. Battle for No. 2 continues: Mason is clearly Georgia's starting quarterback, but the fight behind him should be a fun one for the months to come. It's down to redshirt sophomore Faton Bauta and redshirt freshman Brice Ramsey. On Saturday, Bauta was the more impressive of the two, passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Ramsey, who suited up for both teams, finished with 78 total yards and an interception on 2 of 13 passing. While Ramsey wasn't as accurate as he'd like to be, he has a cannon of an arm and might have the most arm talent on the team. He just has to get that thing under control before he can take another step in the process. "I obviously could have thrown it a lot better, but at the same time I feel good about my performance," Ramsey said. "I was picking up blitzes, making the right reads. I just need to put the ball on. I had a bad day throwing." As for Bauta, he shed the black non-contact jersey in order to take some contact and finish plays after defenders got their hands on him. He was certainly a lot more efficient than Ramsey, but he said he knows that he can't slow down when it comes to winning this job before the fall.
5. The secondary has a ways to go: New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will have his hands full with Georgia's secondary. A unit that surrendered 227 passing yards per game and 18 touchdowns last year showed some of the same issues it had last season during the spring game. Now, injuries to guys like Tray Matthews and J.J. Green, who was at running back last year, contributed to that, but the offenses were able to make too many big plays in the passing game. If not for a couple of overthrown deep balls, the offenses could have put up a few more points. It didn't help that the defenses were called for six pass interference penalties with half of the starting receivers out. Six players averaged 15 or more yards per reception against the secondary on Saturday. "We're getting better," cornerback Damian Swann said. "Everything that happened today can be fixed, and that's why you have games like this. ... I think we did pretty good as a secondary."
We’re counting down the five most pressing questions facing the SEC this spring, in no particular order of importance. First, how do you replace all the veteran quarterbacks the league enjoyed in 2013?
When spring camps open over the next few weeks -- the first being Texas A&M on Friday -- that question will begin to be answered. With each snap and each team meeting, leaders will emerge. Some staffs will look for a winner heading into the summer so they can avoid a quarterback controversy come fall, while others will have to sweat it out through the offseason.
Texas A&M: Surprises will undoubtedly occur, as we saw only a few years ago when a scrappy freshman from Kerrville, Texas, beat out the presumptive favorite to land the starting job at Texas A&M. The Aggies stumbled upon Manziel, and Jameill Showers was quickly forgotten. Kenny Hill and Matt Joeckel are this year’s frontrunners, but they’ll have competition in another freshman nipping at their heels in Kyle Allen. The Arizona native is more of a pure passer than a running quarterback, but he has the tools to sling the ball around in Kevin Sumlin’s offense.
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier didn’t mince words when he saidDylan Thompson is “without question going to be our quarterback.” He even asked, “Why open it up when he’s the only one who’s played?” Thompson, a rising senior, doesn’t have the athleticism to break containment quite like Shaw, but Thompson can still move the chains with his feet when necessary. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound South Carolina native doesn’t lack for arm strength and might even have more pure throwing ability than Shaw. But where Thompson must match Shaw is intangibles. There wasn’t a more dynamic leader in the SEC than Shaw last year, and the Gamecocks will miss that kind of will power under center in 2014. While the starting job is Thompson’s to lose, don’t sleep on redshirt freshman Connor Mitch. The former four-star recruit could push Thompson this spring.
Missouri: The race to replace Franklin comes down to one quarterback and one quarterback alone: Maty Mauk. The rising redshirt sophomore showed last season that he can control the offense, starting four games in which he averaged 227.5 yards, 2.5 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions per game. More importantly, he won three of the four games with the only loss coming in double overtime against South Carolina. He’ll learn from that experience and take over a team that will be moving on from the loss of big-time playmakers Henry Josey, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas. Having the ultra-talented Dorial Green-Beckham back will help, but an arrest on drug charges in January has clouded his future.
Georgia: Despite what wasn’t a great performance to end last season -- 21-of-39 for 320 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Nebraska -- Hutson Mason is still the overwhelming favorite to replace Murray. Why? Because Mark Richt and the coaching staff have essentially been grooming Mason to take over for years now, redshirting him in 2012 so he would have a year left to play in 2014. Mason was once a three-star quarterback who put up huge numbers running the spread at Lassiter High School in nearby Marietta, and with Todd Gurley behind him, he won’t be asked to do too much his first year starting. While he might be a year away, don’t write off Faton Bauta just yet. The 6-3, 216-pound redshirt sophomore has impressed the staff with his work ethic and could find his way into some playing time.
Alabama: Oddly enough, the quarterback many presume will take over for McCarron won’t actually arrive until the summer. Jacob Coker, the heralded transfer from Florida State, will be a little late finishing his degree in Tallahassee, which leaves a big opportunity for the rest of Alabama’s quarterbacks to make a first impression. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will instead have his focus on Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman this spring. Sims, who best fits the mold of a run-first quarterback, has a lot of work ahead of him to prove he can play from the pocket. Morris, meanwhile, didn’t get much time as a redshirt freshman last season and needs to improve his decision-making from the last time we saw him at A-Day. Bateman and McLeod are relative unknowns after redshirting last season, but Bateman, a four-star recruit, does come with a lofty pedigree. The wild card is David Cornwell, the four-star recruit who enrolled in January and will benefit from the fresh start all of the quarterbacks will get under Kiffin.
A source told ESPN.com on Monday that Georgia granted releases to both players and that Jacksonville State has agreed to sign the two Bulldogs.
LeMay, whose brother Uriah is a freshman receiver at Georgia, was a highly recruited prospect when he signed with Georgia in 2011. The Matthews, N.C., native was ESPN's No. 100 overall prospect and No. 5 quarterback -- sandwiched between Ohio State's Braxton Miller and UCLA's Brett Hundley, and four spots ahead of Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater -- when he joined the Bulldogs' "Dream Team" recruiting class as an early enrollee that January.
However, he actually fell on Georgia's depth chart this season after playing for the first time last fall. LeMay started the 2012 season as Aaron Murray's primary backup in order to allow Hutson Mason to redshirt. LeMay played in three of the first four games that fall but lost ground to walk-on Parker Welch after losing a fumble and throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown in mop-up duty against Florida Atlantic.
Welch was the first backup to enter games behind Murray from that point on in 2012, and Mason and Faton Bauta both ranked ahead of redshirt sophomore LeMay in the pecking order this season. He missed at least two practices last week while coaches said he was dealing with a "personal matter" and rumors began to circulate that he was preparing to transfer, although he returned to practice at the end of the week.
Fluker already announced plans to transfer last week after sitting out the entire 2013 season with medical issues. He was the No. 36 overall prospect and No. 2 safety on ESPN's Junior College 100 when he signed with the Bulldogs in February.
Both players should have two seasons of eligibility remaining when they enroll at Jacksonville State.
- Jesse Williams, Terrence Cody, Quinton Dial. Alabama has had some good luck signing junior college defensive linemen.
- Auburn center Reese Dismukes hasn't made any choices about his future yet, but he has submitted paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board to better make a decision.
- LSU's Jalen Mills, who was a standout freshman at cornerback last season, is seeing some time at safety. And while Zach Mettenberger might not throw another pass for the Tigers, he is sticking around to help tutor the other quarterbacks.
- "It honestly doesn't matter what star you're ranked," says Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, a consensus All-American.
- Ole Miss is doing everything it can to prepare for Georgia Tech and its vaunted triple option offense, even if that means running drills coach Hugh Freeze isn't comfortable with.
- Mississippi State is getting back into the mode of game-planning with a short holiday break coming.
- Former New Mexico assistant Coleman Hutzler is rejoining Will Muschamp in Gainesville where he will coach outside linebackers and special teams.
- Well he grew up tall and he grew up fast. Jadeveon Clowney, reflecting on his time at South Carolina, says his first three years flew by.
- Georgia redshirt freshman Faton Bauta isn't satisfied. "You always want to shoot higher," he said of being the Bulldogs' No. 2 quarterback.
That said, the redshirt junior plans to compete over the next 10 months like he hasn't won anything yet.
“I've been here for four years, obviously, and everybody wants to say, 'He's the next guy, he's the next guy,' but no one owes you anything,” Mason said. “Just because you're here for four years doesn't mean that you're going to walk in the day when Aaron leaves and you're going to be the starting quarterback. … That's the way our coaches coach, that's the right way to go about it and I know that there's other guys in that room that are capable of making plays and they're capable of being really good quarterbacks.”
He has performed adequately as Murray's replacement – he has completed 46 of 71 passes for 648 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, which should only solidify his place for next fall. The more interesting aspect of the competition might be the jockeying for the position behind Mason among a group of young quarterbacks who could take over the reins in 2015.
“I don't see Hutson doing anything to self-destruct and make himself lose that job,” center David Andrews said. “But these young guys, they'll understand. Hutson, he came out every day and he competed no matter what, even in his redshirt year , when he knew he wasn't going to play. I think those young quarterbacks seeing that can understand, 'Even if I'm not going to play, this is setting it up and every day you don't try to get better, you're going to get worse.' I believe that, so I think Hutson sets a great example in that aspect.”
As of now, the Bulldogs have three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster who will have eligibility remaining next fall: redshirt sophomore Christian LeMay, redshirt freshman Faton Bauta and freshman Brice Ramsey, who is redshirting this season. Georgia also has a commitment from Jacob Park (Goose Creek, S.C./Stratford), ESPN's No. 94 overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class and No. 4 dual-threat quarterback.
Exhibiting a strong work ethic and intriguing run-pass skills, Bauta seized the backup spot behind Mason and will reportedly be tough to beat for the No. 2 role next season.
“He's really come into his own, not beating himself up every time he makes a mistake and going back out there to make another play,” said receiver Chris Conley, who predicted that Bauta would claim the No. 2 job next fall. “He's a hard worker, so he's always going to be his toughest critic. But he's made a lot of plays this year out there. He made a lot of plays in the spring and that kind of turned people's heads to say, 'OK, I didn't know that he could play like that.' ”
Ramsey is also an interesting prospect, having impressed coaches and teammates with his prototypical 6-foot-3 size and possibly the strongest arm among any of the quarterbacks on the roster.
As with most freshmen, Ramsey made use of his redshirt year to settle into a college routine and learn Georgia's offense.
“He has a gun on him,” receiver Michael Bennett said. “He has a very good arm. He's just a freshman. You've got to mature a little bit, but he's going to be a good player, too.”
That redshirt year was a particularly valuable experience for a green quarterback like Ramsey who executed a run-heavy Wing-T offense in high school – a far cry from the pro-style offense he'll run in college.
“I've grown so much,” Ramsey said. “In January [when he enrolled], I couldn't have even have told you what a zone was or what all that was. It was just coming in and actually having to put forth effort and trying to learn the playbook and study and everything. Now I'm picking everything up and just excited for the future.”
For now, though, the starting job in 2014 is Mason's to lose. He's the only quarterback aside from Murray to have attempted a pass this season – Bauta has run three times for 29 yards in mop-up duty and LeMay hasn't played this season at all, although he saw the field as a reserve in 2012 – and Mason will be far and away the most experienced quarterback on the roster next fall.
That will be a major departure for Mason, who up until 10 days ago has spent his entire career playing second fiddle to SEC career passing leader Murray.
“It's going to be weird just not having the guys that I'm used to being around, like Parker [Welch, a senior walk-on] and Murray,” Mason said. “We've had a core group of guys that have been around for a long time in that QB room and we're going to be a whole lot younger with a lot of new faces. It's going to be different.
“It's exciting, though. It's what you come to Georgia for. I've been waiting for four years to go out there and compete for that starting position and I know every other guy in that room, that's why they're here. So that's an exciting time.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's period of mourning over Aaron Murray's season-ending knee injury can't last long. The Bulldogs face rival Georgia Tech in six days -- and for the first time since 2009, they'll do it with someone other than Murray under center.
Once considered the Bulldogs' quarterback in waiting for 2014 -- after Murray, the SEC's all-time leading passer, departed for the NFL -- Hutson Mason's time is now, and that isn't as much of a cause for concern as one might expect.
“I think the whole team is confident in him,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said after Saturday's 59-17 win against Kentucky. “He's been preparing for four years now for his moment. His moment's just come a little earlier than we thought it might. I know he's ready, and I know everybody believes in him.”
Now, he's getting an early tryout for the gig, with an opportunity to make his first career start against Georgia Tech and then to lead the offense once again in the Bulldogs' bowl game.
“I'm going to watch the game tomorrow and then start preparing for Tech,” Mason said after completing 13 of 19 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown, plus rushing for another score, against Kentucky. “I don't think anything in my preparation's going to change because I've been preparing like I've been the starter the whole year, and I think that's what's going to help me. And I don't have a lot of game-time experience, but I'm an older guy and I've been here a while and I know my teammates believe in me, and that's what's the most important thing.”
Georgia's offense didn't miss a beat on Saturday after Mason replaced Murray, who injured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee after taking a big hit from Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith in the second quarter on Saturday. The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their first four drives with Mason under center, and he capped his night with a field-goal drive before giving way to third-string quarterback Faton Bauta late in the blowout win.
The Bulldogs generated 309 yards in 37 plays with Mason in at QB against Kentucky, good for an average of 8.35 yards per play.
“When he's at practice, there's no drop-off when he comes in,” senior offensive guard Chris Burnette said. “He knows exactly what to do, has a great skillset, is a great leader. We know what he's bringing to the table, and he knows what we're bringing to the table so I think we're able to feed off of each other and be able to do well.”
There is a major difference between executing in practice and executing in a game, however, and Mason has only 11 games of experience -- almost all of which came in mop-up duty during blowouts. He didn't have time to over-think his role while replacing Murray on Saturday, but now he will be the center of attention for the first time during the run-up to a game against perhaps Georgia's biggest rival.
He said the number of close games Georgia played this season, with Murray playing the entire time, made him sometimes question the importance of preparing. He's obviously glad he continued to put in the work each week now, though.
“That's the nature of being a backup -- you've always got to be ready when your number's called on, especially with the way we've played this year,” Mason said. “There's many times through the week I'm like, 'Should I even prepare?' Because I've got voices in my head telling me, 'Should I prepare? I might not play. Is this worth it?' And it just goes to show you, always prepare like you're going to play because you never know when it's going to come.”
Murray's setback only exacerbates the Bulldogs' injury woes in a season where they have been especially prevalent. Georgia lost receiver Malcolm Mitchell to an ACL injury on the second series of the season -- he was celebrating a 75-yard Todd Gurley touchdown run when the injury occurred -- and tailback Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley both went down with additional ACL tears during a midseason win against Tennessee.
Offensive weapons Gurley, Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jay Rome have also been knocked out of the lineup for multiple games, but Murray's seems like the most painful after he returned for his senior season only to suffer an injury near the very end. It will prevent him from participating in a postseason all-star game or at the NFL combine.
Georgia, however, must quickly pick up the pieces with Mason at quarterback, much like it did when its starting quarterback left his final home game with a devastating injury.
“I was proud of the way [Mason] played and proud of the way the other guys picked it up when Aaron went down,” Bobo said. “I feel for Aaron on senior night to get hurt with as much as he's invested in the program and everything he's done. But he played great again while he was out there -- just another phenomenal night for him.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- If you're at Sanford Stadium prior to Georgia's game against Kentucky on Saturday, don't be alarmed if you witness a physical altercation between Aaron Murray and one of his fellow quarterbacks.
Should he grow too emotional during the pregame ceremony where UGA will honor its seniors before their final home game, Murray has instructed backup Faton Bauta to snap him back to reality.
“You really have to flip a switch because you want to enjoy that time with your family and get to take a picture with Coach [Mark] Richt and all that, and it is tough,” Murray said Tuesday. “But I told Faton yesterday, I said, 'If I'm being a little baby, come slap the crap out of me. Seriously, come knock me and get me going again and get me ticked off.' Because it is tough.”
Murray is one of 28 seniors who will be honored Saturday -- a group that has seen its share of ups and downs at UGA.
“It's been a pretty serious roller coaster in my time here for ups and downs for winning and losing,” senior left guard Dallas Lee said. “I don't really know, man, I'm proud of everything we've gone through the last couple years, getting as close as we did and this year fighting through all the adversity that we've had with injuries.”
Lee is one of a trio of senior starters on Georgia's offensive line along with right guard Chris Burnette and left tackle Kenarious Gates. Together, the three have started exactly 100 games in their college careers.
It's a four-year stretch that saw Georgia post its only losing record under Richt when they were freshmen, bounce back from two losses to open their sophomore season to reach the SEC championship game for the first time since 2005 and then come within a few yards of playing for a BCS championship last year, only to fall just short against eventual BCS champ Alabama in their return trip to Atlanta.
“It's a bond that a lot of people don't have with somebody,” Lee said. “I have the fortune of having it with both of them, Chris and Ken, and it's awesome, man. I consider them two of my brothers.”
Even this season has been a valuable growing experience for the group, said defensive lineman Garrison Smith, the only senior starter on the team. As in life, Smith said in football “you're going to have sunshine and you're going to have storms.”
This season, which opened with the Bulldogs ranked fifth nationally, fell apart as the Bulldogs struggled with too many injuries and defensive miscues. But given the problems that the team faced throughout the season, Smith said he remains proud of the Bulldogs' resilience -- as evidenced by their fourth-quarter comeback Saturday against Auburn, only to suffer a heartbreaking defeat in the final minute.
“It's just a year of a few little thunderstorms. It ain't no monsoons or nothing. Ain't no typhoons. Ain't none of them going on,” Smith said. “Unfortunately we've had the injury bug, man. That's tough, not just for this season, for them players that's hurt. That's what's most important. No player wants to deal with injuries and my heart is out for them guys. ... But at the end of the day, I'm proud of everybody. I'm proud of this team and how they've fought. I don't have no complaints.”
Smith might change his tune a bit if the Bulldogs lose to Kentucky on Saturday, however. That's what happened on senior night in 2009, when receiver Rantavious Wooten caught the first two touchdown passes of his career but saw the Wildcats rally for a 34-27 victory.
Wooten shared that situation with some of his younger teammates this week.
“I was telling the guys for a little extra motivation that it was the same situation my freshman year as it was now,” Wooten said. “Game at night, Kentucky, senior night. We started off good and Kentucky came back and pulled it off. Hell of a game and ended up beating us. This right here is extra motivation. Records don't mean anything. Come out and just prepare like you're playing Alabama.”
Of course, the 2-8 Wildcats aren't close to being in top-ranked Alabama's class. As 24-point underdogs on Saturday, they shouldn't be close to Georgia's, either.
So long as the Bulldogs don't come out of the pregame ceremony with Richt and their families as emotional wrecks, they should be able to take care of business -- and Burnette does not expect emotion to be a problem.
“I feel like it's going to give us energy, honestly. For me it is at least, just understanding it's the last time I get to play between the hedges,” Burnette said. “I've wanted to play on that field and in that stadium since I was like 10 years old, so for it to be the last shot, the last go-round, it's going to be something special.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- In some ways, Arthur Lynch believes that Aaron Murray fits the quarterback stereotype perfectly. In others, Georgia's senior tight end says that Murray could not be further from what one might expect from a record-setting, four-year starter at one of the nation's most prominent football programs.
“So no, he's never given that vibe, which is a testament to him because he could easily be that guy and people would probably like him more for it because it's, 'Ah, that's what he's supposed to act like.' But the fact that he doesn't fit that mold is probably what people get weirded out about. They're probably like, 'There's got to be something behind the curtain.'”
Nope. Murray's generally affable demeanor is no facade -- which might be part of his perception problem nationally and even within his own conference.
He's not a flashy player, throwing up “Get Money” hand signals after a touchdown like Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. He hasn't won BCS titles like Alabama's AJ McCarron. Yet when the SEC's coaches released their preseason all-conference list, some college football observers were surprised to see Murray as the first-team quarterback.
Maybe that was a career achievement award from the league's coaches, as Murray's team-first attitude and legendary work ethic have helped him become the most prolific passer in the league's history.
“Everything he's done, he's earned it. It wasn't just off God-given talent or this crazy arm or anything like that. It's that he's worked for it, he's earned it,” said receiver Rhett McGowan, Murray's fellow fifth-year senior.
Murray has already broken ex-Bulldog David Greene's SEC record for career passing yards (Murray now has 12,029) and surpassed former Florida great Tim Tebow's career mark for total offense (Murray's at 12,327 yards) with a completion to Lynch in the Bulldogs' last game against Vanderbilt.
Entering Saturday's game against Florida, Murray is two touchdown passes behind ex-Gator Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114 touchdown passes, and he's still on pace to threaten ex-Gator Chris Leak's league record of 895 completions (Murray has 835) and former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen's mark of 1,514 pass attempts (Murray has 1,355).
Not that he has much time to focus on the record book these days. Coming off two straight losses, Murray's Georgia team (4-3, 3-2 SEC) needs a win on Saturday to have any hope in the SEC East race -- and he has been working overtime with an injury-depleted receiving corps in hopes of giving his offense a chance against a stout Florida defense.
“I guess when I'm old and want to brag, I can,” Murray said of the records. “But right now it's all about the team. It's all about getting this win. I guess I can talk about this later in life when I'm done playing and all, when I look back.”
Murray was on a short list of Heisman contenders just a few weeks ago, when Georgia was coming off wins against top-10 teams South Carolina and LSU and still had hopes of claiming a BCS championship berth. That was Murray's stated goal all along in returning for his senior season, and it appeared to be a reasonable possibility before many of his most valuable skill players fell victim to long-term or season-ending injuries.
The Bulldogs' once-explosive offense struggled without Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in the backfield and Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett at receiver, and the losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt in those players' absence sunk the Bulldogs' BCS hopes. But Murray said he doesn't regret his decision to put off his NFL dreams for one more season.
“I'm still playing football. I'm still out there with my buddies having fun, competing,” Murray said. “Obviously I came back to try to give ourselves a chance to win a championship, but it didn't happen. So what? Let's move on. Let's continue working hard and having fun, and that's what I'm doing.”
That typifies the attitude Murray has displayed since he arrived at Georgia in 2009, with his relentless behind-the-scenes work propelling him through one of the most statistically impressive careers in SEC history, even if it might not result in the recognition that goes to quarterbacks on championship teams or those with a flashier highlight reel.
A BCS crown will not complete Murray's legacy at Georgia, but he will leave a significant void nonetheless. To gain some insight, consider an observation that Bulldogs coach Mark Richt made last Friday at the end of the Bulldogs' open week, when most coaches and players had already started making the most of a rare off weekend.
“It was maybe close to noontime, maybe just after noontime, and he and Faton [Bauta, one of Georgia's backup quarterbacks] are out there doing footwork and drill work and throwing the ball,” Richt recalled. “I went over the rail and I said, 'Get out of here. Just relax.' They were like, 'There's no days off, Coach. There's no days off.' [I said], 'All right, if that's what you want.'
“But that's how he is. He's wired that way. Every single day he wants to try to find a way to get better, and he's not feeling sorry for himself or anything like that. I think he's still very happy that he's here with us and wants to finish strong.”
“I’m thinking right now I’m going to have Clemson with a 28-0 lead going into the third quarter and see if Georgia can come back and win it, so stay tuned. We’ll see what happens,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after Tuesday’s practice.
The Wednesday evening event at Sanford Stadium -- Georgia’s third and final preseason scrimmage -- will serve as a practice game for the opener. For the first time, Richt’s staff will split the roster into expected contributors for the Clemson game versus everyone else.
That scout team will simulate Clemson, and will attempt to defend the four-touchdown halftime lead with reserve quarterbacks Christian LeMay and Faton Bauta simulating Tigers star quarterback Tajh Boyd against the veterans.
It also gives the coaching staff an opportunity to practice logistical situations, such as from a kickoff to a scrimmage series or following a change of possession, for the first time in a game-like environment. And they’ll do so with the personnel who will have to make those in-game transitions on Aug. 31.
“It’s just to get everybody more prepared for the game -- the things that we’re going to actually be doing and to put it in play,” senior defensive end Garrison Smith. “That sort of thing.”
Although the coaching staff informed the players Tuesday which ones will start out on the scout team, Richt and Smith both said they have seen youngsters battle their way into playing time during the season after initially being cast aside with the scout team. Richt used former Bulldogs linebacker Odell Thurman as an example of a player who fought his way off the scout team, and said players can similarly change opinions again with starting positions or contributing roles.
“There’s probably some starting positions on the line,” Richt said. “I know there’s some guys that probably still could possibly turn a coach’s head and say, ‘You know, this kid’s ready to play.’ There’ll be some guys that are playing for Clemson that could possibly sprout or however you want to say it or just play so well that we’re like, ‘You know what, maybe we ought to give this guy some reps.’ ”
One area that will remain a concern beyond Wednesday’s scrimmage is the injury-depleted secondary. The group which must already replace three starters and will be without strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons -- who is suspended for the opener -- continues to struggle with injuries.
Of the 13 players listed on Georgia’s Tuesday pre-practice injury report, seven were defensive backs including expected starting safety Tray Matthews (out with a hamstring strain) and the only returning starter, cornerback Damian Swann (limited with a hip flexor/groin strain). Cornerbacks Sheldon Dawson (shoulder sprain) and Devin Bowman (hamstring strain) and safety Corey Moore (knee sprain) -- all expected contributors this season -- were either limited or held out on Tuesday.
“The group that goes with Georgia, it’ll be interesting to see how much time the Clemson quarterback will have to get the ball off,” Richt said. “I think we’ve got a good enough line that’ll be playing for Clemson tomorrow that should be able to protect the quarterback, should be able to allow him to make some passes.
“There’ll be some receivers on that team that can make plays. So it’s not going to be a situation where they’re not going to get tested. I’m not saying they’re going to be as good as Clemson by any stretch, but they’ll be good enough to put some pressure on them.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Seldom has the Georgia coaching staff had a week like this. Last Saturday the Bulldogs picked up two commitments from players who choose the Bulldogs on the spot when offered; no waiting, no visits, no nothing. Then on Tuesday, Georgia picked up a commitment from Nick Chubb, the Peach State’s most productive running back last year. On Thursday the Bulldogs received their first pledge from a prospect ranked in the top-10 players from Georgia, ESPN 150 athlete Malkom Parrish. Now Georgia has picked up a commitment from a top quarterback, Elite 11 member Jacob Park.
A defense that lost 12 significant players will be a focal point well into the fall, and it was in our post-spring recaps. Let’s take a look at the defensive positions first:
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The more intriguing aspect of the next 12 months is whether redshirt junior Hutson Mason will be able to seize the Bulldogs’ backup job this fall and -- more importantly -- the starting position for 2014.
Mason is the odds-on favorite to back up Aaron Murray this fall, having played in eight games as his backup between 2010 and 2011, but he probably will not enjoy extensive playing time this fall unless Murray endures a significant injury.
To this point, that seems unlikely since Murray has started all 41 games of his college career. Nonetheless, Mason will almost certainly receive the first chance to follow Murray this fall and will be in position to become the 2014 starter with a strong fall as Murray’s backup.
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Newcomers: Brice Ramsey, Fr. (ESPN’s No. 7 pro-style quarterback signee in 2013. Enrolled in January)
Key storyline: After passing for 10,091 yards in his first three seasons as Georgia’s starter, Murray is poised to break all of the SEC’s key career passing records as a senior. He is 1,437 yards away from former Bulldog David Greene’s SEC-high 11,528 career passing yards. With 696 completions, he is 199 away from Florida quarterback Chris Leak’s record of 895. With 1,131 attempts, Murray trails Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen’s SEC record by 383 passes. And with 95 touchdown passes, he is 19 behind Florida’s Danny Wuerffel’s 114.
Murray is also the FBS active career leader in touchdown passes and is fourth with a 158.55 career passer rating. He’s already the first SEC quarterback ever to pass for 3,000 yards in three straight seasons.
Breakout candidate: Considering that Murray has started all 41 games of his career and will enter the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate, there is no reason to expect a breakout player to emerge at quarterback this season. However, it will be worth watching the competition behind him over the next year as players jockey to become Murray’s replacement in 2014.
Reviewing 2012: Murray ranked second nationally in passing efficiency with a 174.82 passer rating and threw for 330 or more yards in four of the last eight games, including 427 yards and five touchdown passes -- both UGA bowl records -- in a Capital One Bowl win against Nebraska. His low-water marks were a 109-yard effort against South Carolina and a three-interception first half against Florida, but otherwise Murray enjoyed an outstanding season.
Walk-on Welch and LeMay played behind Murray in mop-up duty -- second-stringer Mason redshirted in order to establish a year between himself and Murray -- but neither player had much of an opportunity to distinguish himself. Welch passed LeMay on the depth chart after the freshman lost a fumble and threw a pick six against Florida Atlantic.
Projecting 2013: Murray has improved statistically -- and the Bulldogs’ win total has also increased -- in each of his three seasons as a starter. If he can continue that progress and cut back on his interception total a bit, he should rank among this season’s Heisman contenders throughout the fall. The key will be the first month of the season, when the Bulldogs face Clemson, South Carolina and LSU. Murray’s mediocre results against ranked opposition have been extensively covered, but he seemed to turn a corner in that regard late last season. The Bulldogs need him to be close to error free in the first month if they are to remain in SEC championship contention.
Adam (Charlotte): What is your view on the post-Aaron Murray quarterback position battle? Brice Ramsey comes out very highly recruited but played in a pure running team and didn't really showcase his talents. Could the big bad SEC be too much for him?
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“I actually could go back to Brice when he was in the fifth grade at a youth camp that we were hosting and watching him run around and lead people and throw the ball as a fifth grader,” said Jeff Herron, who coached Ramsey at Camden County High School in Kingsland, Ga. “It’s rare that you can tell with kids that early, but you certainly could [then].”
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Peach State: Top Tier Recruiting Ground?
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