Georgia Bulldogs: Michael Bennett

Georgia coach Mark Richt announced on Tuesday that redshirt freshman receiver Uriah LeMay is transferring.

LeMay had a decent spring on the field for the Dawgs, but he would likely have been buried on the depth chart with the return of Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley, who had their 2013 seasons cut short by ACL injuries. LeMay was one of four Georgia players arrested on theft charges earlier this spring. His older brother Christian, a backup quarterback for the Bulldogs, decided to transfer from Georgia in January.

[+] EnlargeUriah LeMay
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsFormer four-star recruit Uriah LeMay is leaving the Bulldogs.
"Uriah made the decision in order to have a better opportunity for playing time," Richt said in a statement through the school. "He has our best wishes in achieving all his goals as a student and athlete."

LeMay was a four-star prospect coming out of high school, but with so much experienced receiving talent returning, including seniors Chris Conley, who had a tremendous spring, and Michael Bennett, it was going to be hard for him to grab a healthy amount of reps and receptions this fall. While his departure will cut into future depth, the Dawgs should be just fine this fall at the receiver spot.

They'll get some help from rising sophomore Brendan Langley, who is moving to receiver from cornerback. While Langley started four games at cornerback last season, he was benched early in the season in favor of fellow freshman Shaq Wiggins, who announced last week that he was transferring. Langley is a bit of an unknown at the receiver spot, but that's what summer workouts and fall camp are for. Langley was an ESPN 300 member and the No. 24-ranked athlete in the Class of 2013, so it's worth a try to see what he can do at receiver.

The loss of Wiggins does hurt the Bulldogs. In a secondary full of issues last season, Wiggins was at times the lone bright spot. He led the team with two interceptions and had four pass breakups. With Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons (dismissed in February) both gone, Georgia's secondary will be lacking experience this fall. Senior Damian Swann is now the only corner on the team who has started more than one game.

Even if Wiggins were still around, it was going to be a battle all throughout the secondary this season. After a roller-coaster season for Georgia's secondary, no job was safe in 2014, and the coaches even moved running back J.J. Green to corner, where he excelled at the star position. Walk-ons Aaron Davis and Lucas Redd even impressed this spring, leaving as first-teamers.

With the return of redshirt freshman Reggie Wilkerson (ACL) and the arrival of 2014 signees Malkom Parrish, Shaq Jones, and Shattle Fenteng, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will have plenty of bodies to work with. And he was always going to leave the competition open for everyone.
Georgia lost one of the most decorated quarterbacks in SEC history, but people don't expect to see the Bulldogs' passing game to fall off too much in 2014.

With more than 8,500 votes cast in our SportsNation poll, Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason was picked by our readers to throw the most touchdown passes in the SEC in 2014. Mason, who is replacing longtime starter Aaron Murray this fall, grabbed 32 percent of the vote.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIGeorgia fans expect Hutson Mason to pick up where Aaron Murray left off.
South Carolina's Dylan Thompson, also taking over for a pretty solid quarterback, collected 27 percent of the vote, Auburn's Nick Marshall received 19 percent and Ole Miss' Bo Wallace got 16 percent. Mississippi State's Dak Prescott only grabbed six percent of the vote.

It's hard to argue with this one because Mason isn't just talented; he has some quality receivers coming back. Georgia's staff has always been high on Mason, and now he gets his chance to really show what he can do when he isn't planted in Aaron Murray's shadow.

Clearly, Mason has to prove that he can be a leader and show that he's ready to be No. 1, but he'll have a lot of help from guys such as Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. Oh, and he can just hand the ball off to a stable of running backs -- starting with workhorse Todd Gurley -- when he wants to give his arm a break.

While I think Thompson could have a good year as the Gamecocks' starter, I'd keep my eye on Missouri's Maty Mauk. He filled in well for James Franklin in the middle of last season and has all the tools to be an All-SEC player. He's confident and has earned plenty of respect from his teammates. It will help that he has Dorial Green-Beckham leading a solid group of receivers. Losing L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas will hurt, but players such as Bud Sasser, Darius White and Jimmie Hunt could fill in nicely for the Tigers.

I'm also interested in seeing how Marshall improves as a passer. When I spoke with Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee late last season, he told me that he could tell that Marshall was getting more and more comfortable and confident with his throwing ability. He's a great runner, but he wants to be a passer first, and I think we'll see more of his arm in 2014.

Players to watch: Jonathon Rumph

February, 24, 2014
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With spring practice still a few weeks away, this week we'll discuss five players to watch when the Bulldogs open workouts on March 18.

Today we begin with a junior college transfer who arrived to great acclaim last year, only to struggle to make much of an impact in the fall.

[+] EnlargeJonathon Rumph
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIJonathon Rumph caught just seven passes for Georgia in 2013. Will he play a bigger role next season?
Jonathon Rumph (Wide receiver, Sr.)

2013 review: When he transferred from Holmes (Miss.) Community College last January, he looked like a weapon that Aaron Murray would instantly utilize. He's 6-foot-5 and was the No. 1 receiver in ESPN's Junior College 100 last year. He added to the hype by catching four passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns in the G-Day game -- and then we didn't see him again until midway through the fall. A lingering hamstring ailment kept him off the field until the Florida game. He played in five of the last six games, including a 98-yard outing against Appalachian State, and finished the season with seven receptions for 121 yards.

Why spring is important: Despite his outstanding performance in the G-Day game, it was apparent that Rumph didn't impress his coaches last spring. Then the injury prevented him from ever truly settling into the receiver rotation. This season is his last shot to accomplish something that might help him land on an NFL roster -- but he has to get on the field at Georgia first. At this point, it's tough to predict whether he'll become a reliable performer, although proving to position coach Tony Ball that he is consistent and coachable during spring ball would be an enormous step in the right direction.

Best case/worst case: Georgia already has some impressive options at receiver. Seniors Chris Conley and Michael Bennett have proven themselves, as have juniors Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley -- both of whom will be returning from season-ending knee injuries. Rumph looks like someone who could join that group of regulars and add both a huge target and vertical threat to the passing game. We'd be a lot more comfortable predicting that he'll actually do that if word begins to spread this spring that he's making good things happen, not more of the mixed reviews that came out around this time last year. If he doesn't get on Ball's good side this spring and preseason, Rumph might have another season like 2013 where he occasionally gets on the field, but fails to make much of a dent on the stat sheet.
Georgia has another top-10 class lined up for national signing day, but its final ranking next week could rise or fall depending on how the Bulldogs finish within their own state -- particularly whether they land their top remaining target, Lorenzo Carter.

As it stands, the Bulldogs have commitments from two of the top six players from Georgia, but that's it among the Peach State's collection of elite prospects. Heavily recruited players such as linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State) and quarterback Deshaun Watson (Clemson) were among those who checked out Georgia before committing elsewhere.

Mark Richt's staff still has a chance to finish on a strong note, however.

[+] EnlargeLorenzo Carter
Miller Safrit/ESPNLorenzo Carter is the top remaining recruiting target for Georgia.
The Bulldogs seem to be in good shape to land five-star defensive end Carter (ESPN's No. 14 overall prospect and No. 3 player at his position). Other targets such as ESPN 300 prospect Wesley Green (No. 120 overall, No. 13 cornerback, uncommitted), Bryson Allen-Williams (No. 162 overall, No. 10 outside linebacker, committed to South Carolina) and Andrew Williams (No. 174 overall, No. 17 defensive end, uncommitted) are among those lurking as possible final members of the class.

Otherwise, this recruiting class -- one that could be slightly smaller than normal -- adequately addresses Georgia's immediate needs. Let's look at how Georgia addressed some of those positions:

Secondary: Georgia's weakest position segment last season could use some immediate help -- and it will get it in cornerbacks Shattle Fenteng (No. 3 overall prospect, top cornerback on ESPN's Junior College 50) and Malkom Parrish (No. 77 overall, No. 10 athlete). Georgia recently added three-star athlete Dominick Sanders at corner. Green -- who is scheduled to join Carter and others on a visit to Athens this weekend -- and three-star athletes T.J. Harrell and Tavon Ross remain as targets.

The possible shortcoming here is that safety was an inconsistent position for Georgia last season and the Bulldogs have only three-star prospect Kendall Gant lined up so far.

With Josh Harvey-Clemons suspended to open the season, senior Corey Moore, rising sophomore Quincy Mauger and oft-injured Tray Matthews might be the only early options, but keep an eye on Harrell and Ross between now and signing day.

Running back: With Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall entering their third seasons on campus, Georgia needed insurance policies at tailback.

The Bulldogs locked that up in a big way with the current headliners in this class, Sony Michel (No. 19 overall, No. 2 running back) and Nick Chubb (No. 63 overall, No. 7 running back). It will be interesting to see how Richt's staff juggles a glut of talented ball carriers just a year after injuries to Gurley and Marshall created depth problems.

Tight end: With Ty Flournoy-Smith getting kicked off the team last summer and Arthur Lynch exhausting his eligibility in the fall, Georgia had a need at tight end. Jeb Blazevich (No. 101 overall, No. 2 tight end/H) could become Georgia's next great pass-catching tight end thanks to an impressive combination of size (6-foot-5) and soft hands.

Offensive line: Replenishing the line of scrimmage is always a priority, and with Georgia losing starting guards Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee, signing a top prospect such as Isaiah Wynn (No. 106 overall, No. 6 guard) will be particularly valuable. The Bulldogs are also set to sign four-star tackle Dyshon Sims and three-star prospects Kendall Baker and Jake Edwards.

Receiver: Georgia has plenty of bodies here for 2014, but Chris Conley, Michael Bennett, Jonathon Rumph and Michael Erdman will each be seniors and Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell will be fourth-year juniors.

The Bulldogs have secured commitments from ESPN 300 member Shakenneth Williams (No. 297 overall, No. 45 receiver) and three-star prospect Gilbert Johnson. They also are set to re-sign Rico Johnson, who failed to qualify after signing with the Bulldogs last February.

Defensive line/outside linebacker: Keep an eye on this group for the future. If Georgia lands Carter to go along with already-committed Lamont Gaillard (No. 55 overall, No. 4 defensive tackle), that could be the foundation for some outstanding defensive lines in the next couple of seasons.

The Bulldogs return almost everyone along the line from last season, so it is not a glaring immediate need. The 2014 line will be stocked with fourth-year players, though, so this is a good time to restock the depth charts for the future. They already have a commitment from the versatile Keyon Brown (No. 185 overall, No. 19 defensive end), with Carter and Williams potentially joining him. Like Brown, three-star outside linebacker Detric Dukes brings some versatility to the crop of commitments along the line.

Georgia's coaches never gave up on Allen-Williams even after his commitment to South Carolina in April. He insists he will still sign with the Gamecocks, but plans to visit Georgia with Carter and the others this weekend. Stay tuned.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nebraska seeks to avenge its loss in the Capital One Bowl from a year ago against No. 22 Georgia on Wednesday at noon ET on ESPN2. Here’s a preview:

Who to watch: The quarterbacks are a good place to start. They won't be Taylor Martinez and Aaron Murray, the record-setting senior duo who led these teams to a combined 76 points last year in Orlando; rather freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. is expected to start for the eighth time this season for Nebraska, and junior Hutson Mason gets the call for the Bulldogs for a second straight game. Also, keep an eye on Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, an SEC-caliber star with size, speed and strength. If he’s not the best player on the field, it might be Georgia running back Todd Gurley.

What to watch: Statistically, it’s difficult to identify too many spots at which one team might exploit the other. Remember, though, Georgia was challenged by a schedule that featured five teams arguably as good or better than Nebraska’s best foe. So the numbers matter little in gauging matchups. Here’s a hunch that the Huskers, who couldn’t stop Minnesota or, for one quarter, South Dakota State, will struggle to contain Gurley. He was in contention for the title of best SEC back before the midseason injury. And watch the matchup of UGA receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett against Nebraska defensive backs Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. It should be good.

Why to watch: The trio of Big Ten-SEC clashes on New Year’s Day is always entertaining -- at least, it is for fans of the SEC teams. Seriously, the Big Ten is 0-2 in bowls (0-4 if you count 2014 newcomers Rutgers and Maryland), and the SEC is 3-0. Perhaps this game presents the Big Ten with its best chance to win on Wednesday. If that doesn’t get you, tune in to see if Nebraska's Bo Pelini can join the likes of Mack Brown, Tom Osborne, Steve Spurrier and Barry Switzer as the eighth BCS-conference coach in history to win nine games in each of his first six years at a school.

Prediction: Georgia 34, Nebraska 24. A big day for Gurley and a typical turnover or two will spell doom for the Huskers. Look for Ameer Abdullah to keep the Huskers close for a while, but like last year, the Bulldogs will make plays when necessary late.

Turnover common for Ball, McClendon

December, 26, 2013
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Pardon Bryan McClendon if he took a pessimistic approach before the fall even arrived, but his five seasons as Georgia's running backs coach have permanently ingrained that attitude into his coaching outlook.

McClendon, who each season has juggled his lineups because of an assortment of injuries and off-the-field issues, predicted to All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley before the season that his sophomore year would not be all breakaway touchdown runs and soaring dives into the end zone. Those moments came, too, but McClendon's prediction proved to be correct when Gurley injured himself in the opener against Clemson and later missed three-and-a-half games with an ankle injury sustained against LSU.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley, who has rushed for 903 yards this season, has been hobbled by an ankle injury this season.
“That's something that we've known and we talked about before the year: it's going to be something,” McClendon said. “We didn't know what it was going to be, but it's going to be something -- just by the position and the style of play that he plays. But I do know that he probably won't be 100 percent [again] until after the year.”

It's always been something for McClendon's players -- and for fellow UGA assistant Tony Ball's receivers, as well -- but the coaches and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have proven over time that they are capable of adjusting to the personnel available on a given week.

They've certainly had more than enough practice in that capacity this season.

Gurley and Keith Marshall both missed multiple games at tailback, while freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas also struggled with minor ailments at points. And Ball's wideout group lost Malcolm Mitchell to a torn ACL on the second possession of the season, Justin Scott-Wesley to an ACL at midseason and Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jonathon Rumph for multiple games at points.

The results with a decimated lineup weren't always pretty -- the Bulldogs committed four turnovers in a midseason loss to Missouri and generated just 221 yards of offense in the following week's loss to Vanderbilt -- but Bobo and company found a way to keep Georgia on pace to break the school's scoring record. The Bulldogs are averaging 38.2 ppg this season, just ahead of their record-setting 37.8-ppg average from 2012.

“There was an adjustment period there that we had to go through,” Bobo said. “That Missouri game, we pretty much stayed aggressive, but we kind of turned the ball over a little bit [and had] some timing issues. We tried to slow it a little bit down in the Vanderbilt game and didn't have the results that way, either, and had to go back to the drawing board and the guys responded and answered and came back and played well the rest of the year.”

That they did. Georgia averaged 45.8 ppg over the final four games, even without key players like Marshall, Mitchell, Scott-Wesley and senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who tore his ACL in the home finale against Kentucky. Even with Rantavious Wooten and Rhett McGowan playing bigger roles at receiver and with the freshmen filling in for Gurley and Marshall in the backfield at midseason, the Bulldogs regularly got production out of less heralded players.

“A lot of people went down and kids had to step up and prove they can play. Even a lot of freshmen had to step up and play,” Douglas said. “I just give credit to the coaches for having them ready to go and Coach B-Mac having me and J.J. ready to roll in whenever we needed to.”

McClendon turned 30 earlier this month, but since Mark Richt promoted him from his post as a graduate assistant in 2009, he has dealt with as much roster turnover as a considerably older coach.

It was stressful, McClendon admitted, but it also expedited his development within the profession.

“You learn by hard times,” McClendon said. “You learn by adversity, you learn by when things are not going just peachy. And obviously that's been the case, and I think I've grown tremendously from it.”

His boss agrees.

Richt saw Green rush for 129 yards in an overtime win against Tennessee and witnessed Douglas post 113 yards of offense against Missouri even when they weren't ready to play leading roles just yet. He saw 10 different wideouts make catches over the course of the season, with seven of them finishing with at least 89 yards in a game this fall.

Injuries are of course part of the game, but Georgia's receivers and running backs have dealt with more than their share over the last couple of seasons – and Richt is proud of the way his assistants have coped with those situations.

“[Ball] coaches them all the same and he does a great job of trying to crosstrain players when they're ready for it to make sure if you do have an injury … you've got guys that have got to be moving around. He did a great job,” Richt said. “And McClendon did, too. Bryan, I think he's blossomed into one heck of a coach.

“I just don't like bragging too much about these guys because everybody wants to try to snag them,” Richt chuckled. “So we don't want that to happen.”

Injuries impacted UGA, Nebraska seasons

December, 23, 2013
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This season's similarities are striking for the combatants in this season's TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Georgia and Nebraska. Perhaps the most notable similarity between the Bulldogs (8-4) and Cornhuskers (8-4), though, is the numerous injuries that helped prevent them from playing up to their potential.

ESPN.com's David Ching and Mitch Sherman discussed how injuries affected the teams' seasons and what might have been if not for all the physical ailments.

1. Out of all of the injuries they sustained this season, which one was the costliest and why?

Ching: There are a lot of directions you could go here, but Todd Gurley's ankle injury and ensuing three-and-a-half-game absence probably hurt the most. Gurley is one of the biggest difference-makers in the country, and Georgia's potent offense simply wasn't as good without him in the lineup -- particularly when fellow tailback Keith Marshall suffered a season-ending knee injury the week after Gurley went down against LSU. It's not a coincidence that Georgia bounced back from a two-game losing streak upon Gurley's return, nor that the Bulldogs went 4-1 down the stretch once he was back. He totaled 755 yards and 10 touchdowns in those five games.

Sherman: Taylor Martinez began this season as most indispensable Husker -- and by November, we saw why. Without the fifth-year senior, who started a school-record 43 games at quarterback, including four this season, the Nebraska offense shifted from the strength of this team to a liability. The Huskers failed to gain 400 yards in each of their final four games. Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III performed admirably, but their numbers paled in comparison to the production expected from a healthy Martinez. In good position to become the second QB in FBS history to surpass 9,000 career passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards, he suffered the fateful foot injury in Nebraska’s season opener. By mid-September, his limitations were painfully apparent, stamped into the record books with losses to UCLA and Minnesota in Martinez’s final two starts.

2. Which position group dealt with the most injury issues?

Sherman: Problems on the offensive line began on the opening series of the sixth game against Purdue as All-Big Ten right guard Spencer Long went down with a season-ending knee injury. Long was the leader of the line and a motivating force for the entire team as a senior captain and former walk-on turned solid NFL prospect. As soon as his linemates began to wear Long’s jersey No. 61 as a tribute, the injury bug spread. First, it was left guard Jake Cotton. Tackles Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale, despite staying in the lineup, dealt with injuries, too, as did center-turned-guard Cole Pensick. Long’s replacement, Mike Moudy, missed the final four games. The injuries hurt most in practice, and Long’s injury got the snowball rolling. Before the Purdue game, Nebraska rushed for 285 yards or more in four of five games. After Purdue, it never topped 195 on the ground.

Ching: Georgia's safeties could make a reasonable argument here, but let's go with the receivers. Malcolm Mitchell suffered perhaps the most bizarre injury of the season when he tore an ACL while leaping into the air to celebrate Gurley's 75-yard touchdown run against Clemson on the Bulldogs' second offensive possession of the fall. Justin Scott-Wesley, who essentially caught the game-winning touchdown passes in the fourth quarter against South Carolina and LSU, tore an ACL while covering a punt against Tennessee. Michael Bennett and Chris Conley also missed multiple games with midseason injuries, and junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph didn't play until Game 8 against Florida after injuring his hamstring in August. Because of the regular lineup shuffling, six Bulldogs have at least 20 catches this season.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIGeorgia went 4-1 after sophomore RB Todd Gurley returned to the lineup, and the only loss was the 'Miracle at Jordan-Hare.'
3. What do you think this team might have accomplished if health hadn't become such a factor?

Ching: I hesitate to say Georgia would have been a BCS title contender because its defense was probably not championship caliber. But it's hard to predict what might have been with any certainty since the Bulldogs started losing key contributors in the first quarter of the first game. I'll go so far as to say the Bulldogs at least would have won a third straight SEC East title and been in the running for an at-large BCS bowl spot. With Aaron Murray, who suffered a season-ending knee injury of his own against Kentucky, at the trigger and an impressive array of skill talent, this had the potential to be the scariest offense Georgia has ever put on the field, but we never saw the full complement for even one full game.

Sherman: It’s difficult to quantify in wins and losses, considering the other problems that plagued these Huskers, notably with turnovers and on special teams. Nebraska could have outscored Minnesota with a healthy Martinez and Long. And it’s likely that the second-half meltdown against UCLA never would have happened if Martinez was operating at full strength. The Huskers moved the ball well in a 41-28 loss to Michigan State. Injuries weren’t the issue against the Spartans; turnovers were, but freshmen committed all five. And Martinez, while turnover-prone since his freshman season, torched the Spartans a year ago. But even at 10-2, Nebraska would have missed a repeat trip to the Big Ten title game.

UGA redshirt review: Offense

December, 19, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia signed a massive 33-man recruiting class in February, and many of those signees -- like Leonard Floyd, Shaq Wiggins, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas -- contributed immediately. Over the next two days, we'll review the offensive and defensive signees who redshirted.

Aulden Bynum, Fr., OL
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 47 offensive tackle
This season: Enrolled in January and worked at multiple positions along the offensive line.
Veteran's perspective: “He's not as strong as he wants to be right now, probably has to put on a little more weight. I think that he's also very good naturally just with leverage and feet space and stuff like that.” -- senior offensive guard Chris Burnette

Josh Cardiello, Fr., OL
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 21 offensive guard
This season: Enrolled in January and practiced mostly at left guard and center .
Veteran's perspective: “Cardiello is a really explosive guy, which I like. I think that's really important as an offensive lineman is to be explosive. He has good leverage, knows how to bend his knees and is also deceptively athletic and I think that's going to be good for him in the future.” -- Burnette

Jordan Davis, Fr., TE
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 15 tight end-Y
This season: Wasn't needed with seniors Arthur Lynch and Hugh Williams and sophomore Jay Rome available.
Veteran's perspective: “I think a big thing for him will just be learning the playbook, understanding the playbook, understanding how we want it done here. He's got a body like Jermaine Gresham. He's 6-foot-5-plus. He's about 240-something now, but he could put on 20 pounds easy. And he can run. I think that's one thing that'll be a very big asset of his is he'll be able to run and create space from linebackers and even probably safeties.” -- Lynch

Uriah LeMay, Fr., WR
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 48 wide receiver
This season: Stuck behind a glut of established veteran receivers.
Veteran's perspective: “Redshirt's a really important year. I know it was for me. I wasn't ready to play at all. It was important going into my redshirt freshman year that I had a lot of experience under my belt and it was a lot easier. I've seen improvement throughout his redshirt year and hopefully this spring is going to be big for him to really learn the offense and hopefully contribute next year.” -- junior receiver Michael Bennett

Brice Ramsey, Fr., QB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 115 overall, No. 7 pocket passer
This season: Enrolled in January knowing that a redshirt was extremely likely with Aaron Murray and Hutson Mason sitting atop the depth chart.
Veteran's perspective: “A cannon. That's the first thing you see when you look at Brice: those long arms and that odd body type. He just brings his arm back and flicks his wrist and the ball just shoots off so fast that you want to get out of the way. But that's the first thing you notice with him. He's a young, fun-loving guy with a lot of God-given ability, and once he puts that together with his knowledge of the playbook, he'll be something dangerous.” -- junior receiver Chris Conley

Tramel Terry, Fr., WR?
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 89 overall, No. 9 athlete
This season: Perhaps the biggest question of bowl practice is how to qualify Terry these days. He practiced at receiver all season while returning from an ACL tear, but has been practicing at safety this week.
Veteran's perspective: “He's a guy who has to still get healthy, get strong and prepare to come in and execute at a high level and play fast. And I think he's going to be ready to do that. … When you take an injury like that, it can do some things to your confidence and I think he's gaining it back and he's building it. With the more plays that he makes, the more like the old Tramel Terry he'll be.” -- Conley

A.J. Turman, Fr., RB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 260 overall, No. 22 running back
This season: When Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were injured at midseason, Turman playing seemed like a possibility. But the coaches preserved his redshirt and he'll join a deep backfield in 2014.
Veteran's perspective: “Turman's the man. Just because even if he's on scout team, he's still like wanting to learn what to do and he's always full speed. He's never like, 'Ah, I'm on scout team. I'm not playing this year.' So he's always getting better from what I see. He always asks me questions like, 'What do I do on this? What do I do on that?' and he actually is really like a beast. Y'all will definitely see.” -- Gurley

B1G bowl opponent primer: Georgia

December, 13, 2013
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We’re examining the Big Ten bowl opponents this week. Time to take a look at Georgia, Nebraska’s repeat postseason foe in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 1, noon ET, ESPN2
Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4)

Georgia Bulldogs

Coach: Mark Richt (13th season)
Record: 8-4, 5-3 SEC
Combined opponents’ record: 90-56
Common opponents: none
Leading passer: Aaron Murray, 225-347 (64.8 percent) for 3,975 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Murray is injured. In his place, Georgia looks to Hutson Mason, 46-71 (64.8) for 648 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Leading rusher: Todd Gurley, 144 carries for 903 yards in nine games (6.3 per carry) and 10 touchdowns.
Leading receiver: Chris Conley, 42 receptions for 605 yards (14.4 per catch) and four touchdowns.
Leading tackler: Linebacker Ramik Wilson, 72 solos and 56 assists, 11 tackles for loss, four sacks and seven quarterback hurries.

What to know: The Bulldogs fought injuries almost from the outset after a three-point, season-opening loss to Clemson. The low point came during the first three weeks of October, when Gurley, the sophomore tailback, missed time with an ankle injury as the Bulldogs snuck past Tennessee before losing to Missouri at home and at Vanderbilt. Since Gurley’s return, Georgia has won four of five games, losing only at Auburn on Ricardo Louis’ miraculous game-winning catch. Murray, the record-setting senior QB, went down with ACL tear against Kentucky, but Mason, a junior, stepped in nicely to throw two touchdowns against Georgia Tech. The receiving duo of Conley and Michael Bennett, both 6-foot-3 and back from midseason absences, will test the Nebraska secondary. It’s been an adventure for the Bulldogs on defense after replacing a talented, veteran group from a year ago. Eight opponents scored 30 points or more. Georgia was especially susceptible against strong aerial attacks and ranked last in the SEC in allowing 7.6 yards per passing attempt.

Key matchup: Gurley vs. Nebraska’s defensive front seven. As Nebraska gets healthy on offense and prepares to face a Georgia defensive unit that has struggled plenty this year, you might expect the Huskers to fare well in a shootout, especially with Murray on the sideline. Not probable. It didn’t work last year in the Capital One Bowl, won by Georgia 45-31 after a close 2 quarters. To succeed in Jacksonville, the Huskers likely need a strong defensive showing focused on Gurley, the bruising runner who finished strong with 122 yards and four scores against Georgia Tech. Nebraska was gouged on the ground by the likes of Wyoming, South Dakota State, Minnesota and Northwestern this year. Gurley is better than all of their backs. But the Huskers’ defensive front, notably first-year starters Randy Gregory, Vincent Valentine Avery Moss and Michael Rose, have shown rapid improvement and now rank as a strength of this team.

UGA 2015 QB race already under way

December, 4, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. – They aren't making any guarantees, but Georgia's coaches have made it abundantly clear that they expect Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray as their starting quarterback next year.

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.”

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIHutson Mason should enter the spring with an advantage to be Georgia's starting quarterback in 2014. The more interesting battle might be for the No. 2 role.
Because of the season-ending knee injury that Murray suffered in the second quarter of the Kentucky game, Mason should have had two-and-a-half games of experience as the Bulldogs' No. 1 quarterback when they kick off the 2014 season against Clemson.

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 [2012], 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.”

Mason could keep foot on gas in 2014

December, 3, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- By now you might have read that Hutson Mason likes to operate Georgia's offense at a quicker tempo than predecessor Aaron Murray -- a possible foreshadowing of a faster pace for the Bulldogs when Mason takes over as the full-time starting quarterback next fall.

Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo didn't want to wait for next season, however. His plan entering Saturday's game at Georgia Tech was for the Bulldogs to run the hurry-up offense for much of the afternoon before the Yellow Jackets jumped out to an early 20-0 lead.

"We tried to go fast really all night tonight. We just early in the game, we had some guys and we missed them and couldn't really get anything going," Bobo said, later adding, "They don't play a lot of people on defense, so I thought if we could wear them down with the screens and with the hurry-up, no-huddle, we'd be able to run the ball late. And we just got so far behind, we kind of had to stay in the pass mode and some one-back runs out of the gun."

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIHutson Mason is comfortable running a fast-paced attack, which could change Georgia's approach.
Mason shook off a poor start to lead Georgia to its first touchdown on a one-minute drive late in the second quarter. He was 5-for-5 for 71 yards on the drive, ran for a 16-yard gain and hit Todd Gurley with a 9-yard touchdown pass that made it 20-7 at halftime.

It's no coincidence that the Bulldogs set an up-tempo pace on the possession, much like the style Mason used to become a record-setting passer at Lassiter High School in Marietta, Ga. In fact, Mason has practiced as the Bulldogs' No. 1 quarterback in similar situational drills each week for much of the season.

"Every Thursday we've done one-minute this year, and except for one time, he did it every time with the offense, and [we] let him run it to get experience, because Aaron had had so many reps," Bobo said. "So he's been doing it in practice all year on Thursdays and has done a nice job, so I knew he would feel comfortable with that."

Bobo installed a no-huddle scheme before the 2011 season, which Georgia has used intermittently over the last two seasons. Don't expect Bobo to completely revamp Georgia's offensive thinking next season -- "we'll still control the tempo that we feel will give us the best chance to win the ballgame," he said last week -- with a workhorse tailback like Gurley in the backfield. But it would not be surprising to see more of an up-tempo style under Mason than the Bulldogs employed under the more deliberate Murray.

"I like to keep things going a little quick," Mason admitted. "Not like Oregon, you know, but I just have a tendency from playing at Lassiter, we were a no-huddle offense, so just by my nature I'm a little faster than Aaron."

If Bobo goes in that direction, it would bring its own set of new challenges for the Bulldogs. For one thing, it would require them to have the proper depth and conditioning level to be able to move quickly without sacrificing their effectiveness.

Exhibit A was the one-minute drive that Mason led as soon as he took over for the injured Murray against Kentucky. Georgia drove 43 yards for a touchdown in only 53 seconds, with Mason going 4-for-5 on the possession, but receiver Michael Bennett admitted he felt the effects of the up-tempo pace afterward.

"As soon as the play's over, he's yelling, screaming to get everyone on the ball, let's get another play going," Bennett recalled. "It's good, but that one-minute drive, for instance, right before the half, I was sucking [wind]. I was dying. But it's just the way he rolls."

It also would require quick thinking, not just quick physical action, receiver Chris Conley said.

"You can't be celebrating. You can't be thinking, 'Oh that was an awesome run.' You've got to get back to the line, you've got to get the play in, you've got to analyze the defense, you've got to go," Conley said. "Whether it's a great play or a bad play, you've got to shuck it out of your mind, and you've got to move forward. It's at a rapid pace, and you have no time to sit and praise or pity yourself."

The main objective in playing that quickly is that it weakens defenses physically and makes it more difficult to counteract what the offenses are attempting, which is why Conley said he expects to utilize more of the up-tempo pace in 2014.

With Mason at the trigger and impressive depth at the offensive skill positions, the Bulldogs should have all the ingredients to execute effectively.

"The fact that Hutson likes it and he's good at it is all the more reason why we'll probably be doing more of that," Conley said. "We brought the no-huddle into this offense a couple years ago to get teams off balance, and it's worked. It's really worked because of the personnel that we have and their ability not only to recover, but make plays down the field and continue to make plays at a rapid pace. The fact that we have the people to do it, yeah I could see that happen."

Reviewing a wild season of UGA football

December, 2, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's season is obviously not over, as we'll learn the 8-4 Bulldogs' postseason fate sometime within the next week. But Saturday's double-overtime win against Georgia Tech put an exclamation point on easily the craziest regular season in Mark Richt's 13 seasons as Georgia's coach.

Let's look back over the season and recap some of the highs and lows:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray had a standout season until he joined the long list of Georgia injuries.
What might have been: There is not a single game this season where the Bulldogs did not play without at least one key player -- and by the Tech game, the injured list featured an all-star team of talent. Considering how receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin-Scott Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall suffered season-ending knee injuries before the midway point, quarterback Aaron Murray will miss the final two games with an ACL injury and that tailback Todd Gurley, receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett and tight end Jay Rome all dealt with multiple-game setbacks, it's a wonder that Georgia didn't go into a steeper tailspin than it did.

MVP: This has to go to Murray, who broke multiple SEC career passing records as a senior. The Kentucky game started out as a senior-night tribute to the four-year starter, only to see it end in heartbreak when he suffered the knee injury in the second quarter that ended his season. He returned for his senior season to win a championship, although injuries and a shaky defense prevented Murray from reaching that goal. Nonetheless, his leadership prevented what could have become a major mess when many of Georgia's best offensive skill players were missing in the middle of the season.

Wildest finish: There's no shortage of competition in this category, as Saturday's Tech game was only the most recent Georgia game that was decided in the closing moments. That's what happens when seven of your 12 games are decided by a touchdown or less. But the winner here has to be the Auburn game, when the Bulldogs rallied from a 20-point, fourth-quarter deficit to take a 38-37 lead on Murray's fourth-down touchdown scramble with 1:49 remaining. Murray's heroics were for naught, however, as Nick Marshall hit Ricardo Louis on a deflected 73-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds remaining, after the pass somehow slipped through Georgia's Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews.

Surprise performer: Ramik Wilson. He was certainly not perfect -- particularly in pass coverage -- but Wilson became the SEC's tackles leader by playing nearly every important down and always hustling to the ball. He didn't make much of an impact in his first two seasons while rotating between inside and outside linebacker, but Wilson was a valuable contributor in leading the team with 128 tackles and tying with Jordan Jenkins for the team lead with 11 tackles for loss. He also made one of the Bulldogs' biggest defensive plays of the season when he deflected a Vad Lee pass in the second overtime against Georgia Tech, enabling Damian Swann to knock the ball away for the game-ending incompletion.

Worst defeat: The Auburn loss might have been more painful, but the 31-27 defeat at Vanderbilt was more avoidable. The Commodores outscored Georgia 17-0 in the fourth quarter -- a comeback expedited by a targeting flag on a fourth-quarter pass breakup by Wilson. The penalty was overturned upon review, but it still resulted in a first down and a 15-yard mark-off down to Georgia's 15-yard line, and eventually a Vandy touchdown. Georgia's ineptitude also contributed to the implosion -- including costly turnovers and an overall lack of aggression on offense -- which made it a particularly galling defeat.

Star in the making: Hutson Mason. Several players could figure in here -- Scott-Wesley, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and safety Harvey-Clemons immediately come to mind -- but this will almost certainly be Mason's team next season. He overcame a shaky start against Tech to lead the Bulldogs back to an overtime win by completing 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Let's keep in mind that it was the first start of his career, on the road, against arguably Georgia's biggest rival.

Biggest disappointment: We all knew the score when the season started. Georgia's defense lost almost every significant player from last season, minus defensive lineman Garrison Smith, inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera, outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and cornerback Swann. A reasonable expectation was for the group to struggle against a challenging early schedule and make rapid improvements as the season progressed. Only that improvement never truly occurred with any consistency. Georgia's defense is better off now than it was when the season started, but there is too much talent on that side of the ball for the Bulldogs to keep making the bone-headed mistakes that plagued them for too much of the season.

Biggest relief: The overtime win against Tennessee kept the Bulldogs in the top 10 for another week, but the rally from an early 20-0 deficit against Georgia Tech will likely be the one more Georgia fans remember. Richt has dominated the Yellow Jackets throughout his tenure, but things didn't look promising when Lee was picking apart Georgia's secondary and Mason and the offense were struggling. A second-quarter touchdown drive helped them to settle down, and they went on to deliver an emotional comeback victory.

Best performance: Gurley's four-touchdown performance against Tech (or his early touchdowns against Florida in his return from a month-long absence) would certainly qualify here. But let's go with one of two showings -- and you can't lose with either one -- by Murray against South Carolina or LSU. Murray faced consistent attacks that he shrunk in the spotlight during his early years, but he largely eliminated those criticisms this season. He was nearly perfect against South Carolina, ending the Gamecocks' three-game series winning streak by going 17-for-23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns. Two games later, he went 20-for-34 for four touchdowns and one interception, plus a rushing score, against LSU and hit Scott-Wesley with the game-winning 25-yard touchdown pass with 1:47 remaining.

Drama is all that Georgia knows

November, 30, 2013
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ATLANTA -- Of course Georgia's season ended like this.

With backup quarterback Hutson Mason making his first career start against Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs spotted the rival Yellow Jackets a 20-0 lead only to rally and force overtime -- and then win 41-34 in the second extra session on a deflected pass that seemed to hang in the air for several minutes.

"I'm just glad I'm still standing," Georgia coach Mark Richt said, relief evident in his weary voice.

Richt's team dealt with injuries to key players all season, played down to the final gun seemingly every week and gave many members of its fan base a good reason to visit a cardiologist. Or a psychiatrist. Or both.

Of course the Bulldogs (8-4) would allow Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee, who hadn't exactly looked like Dan Marino this season, to hit multiple big passes in the first quarter -- throws of 68, 43 and 26 yards -- that helped the Yellow Jackets (7-5) build a 17-0 lead by the end of the period. Of course they would rally back behind Mason and tailback Todd Gurley, who scored both overtime touchdowns, and a defense that hadn't been able to stop anyone consistently all season.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMITodd Gurley's dive into the end zone finally put Georgia on the board late in the first half.
"It wouldn't be a 2013 Bulldogs game unless we were down 20-0 and came back to win," said Mason, who passed for 299 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in place of SEC career passing leader Aaron Murray, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against Kentucky. "That's just the way it seems to go this year."

It came down to Tech's final overtime possession, with the Jackets grinding all the way down to Georgia's 3 before Leonard Floyd led a host of tacklers to stop Robert Godhigh for a 3-yard loss and force a final fourth-down play.

Lee -- who passed for a season-high 232 yards -- threw over the middle to Darren Waller, only to have linebacker Ramik Wilson tip it into the air. Cornerback Damian Swann then batted the deflection away from Godhigh, and it fell to the ground incomplete.

Unlike their failure under similar circumstances two weeks ago in the final seconds against Auburn, the Bulldogs made the pass breakup that put away a dramatic win against a rival.

"It was up there for a while," said Wilson, who was second on the team with nine tackles. "I hit it as hard as I could, trying to make a play. Then it bounced to Swann, and Swann hit it up again. So I'm just glad that the ball fell down."

Said Gurley, who rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns and caught four passes for 36 yards and another score: "I was like, 'Thank God.' I just knew somebody from Tech was coming to get that tipped ball, but they didn't."

Early on, it didn't look like there would be any late-game dramatics. Lee went 3-for-4 for 137 yards in the first quarter alone, while Mason and the UGA offense sputtered. It wasn't until the Bulldogs' final drive of the second quarter, which started with just 1:43 remaining until halftime, that they finally began to show a pulse.

Operating out of the up-tempo setup that helped him become a record-setting passer in high school, Mason went 5-for-5 -- including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Gurley -- and ran for a 16-yard gain as the Bulldogs' 86-yard scoring drive cut Tech's halftime lead to 20-7.

Georgia got the ball to open the second half and drove 63 yards to set up Marshall Morgan's 40-yard field goal, and all of a sudden 20-0 became 20-10, and the folks wearing old gold at Bobby Dodd Stadium weren't quite so loud.

"Momentum's huge in a road game, and with that environment and being down 20, they had all of it in the first half," Mason said. "And you can see how quickly it can change."

Then the defense started getting stops more consistently. Tech's vaunted rushing attack picked up chunks of yards -- it finished with 263 yards on 58 attempts -- but the Jackets mustered just one second-half touchdown, while the Bulldogs put 20 points on the board.

They tied the score for the first time at 27-all when Morgan booted a 32-yard field goal, and then the defense stopped Tech at the Georgia 40 on the ensuing possession to force overtime.

It was all Gurley from there. The Bulldogs' All-SEC tailback ran three straight times and scored from 6 yards to answer Lee's touchdown run in the opening OT period. And then Gurley bolted 25 yards up the middle to score on Georgia's first play of the second overtime.

That put it back on the defense -- which forced two punts, intercepted two passes, surrendered a fourth-quarter touchdown pass and saw Tech's Harrison Butker miss a 43-yard field goal after the Jackets went up 20-0 -- to make one final stop.

Unlike the end of that devastating loss to Auburn, when Ricardo Louis caught a floating deflection for the game-winning score, this time they made the play to win.

"I was saying in the locker room it was a little bit of a redemptive feeling after that Auburn game to have this win -- just a little bit," said receiver Michael Bennett, who caught five passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. "Bottom line, we've got to start out better, obviously, but to see our team come back from that is just amazing."

There has been plenty of amazing this season for Georgia. Some of the good kind and some of the bad. Of course, the Bulldogs couldn't finish without providing one more moment to remember.

Patience pays off for Georgia QB Mason

November, 27, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. – At time two years ago, Hutson Mason was not sure when he might finally get a chance to play, much less where.

Stuck behind Aaron Murray –- who this season became the SEC's all-time leading passer -– on Georgia's quarterback depth chart, Mason gave serious thought to transferring simply so he would not spend his entire career as a backup.

“My heart was telling me one thing and my pride was telling me another thing,” Mason said. “My heart wanted to be a Georgia Bulldog, but I knew I just wanted to play and I knew time was running out. It was a very, very tough decision. I don't think I even knew what the right decision was.”

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIHutson Mason took a redshirt year in order to compete for the starting job in 2014, and now is likely to get two starts this season.
Murray took over Georgia's starting job as a redshirt freshman in 2010, the same season that true freshman Mason became the Bulldogs' No. 2 quarterback. That pecking order held for two seasons.

After his freshman and sophomore seasons, Mason saw the writing on the wall. If he remained at Georgia and in the same class as Murray, he might go his entire college career without ever getting a chance to play. He expressed those concerns to Bulldogs coach Mark Richt and asked Richt to shoot him straight.

“He asked me to treat him as I would my own son. If he were my son, what would I tell him?” Richt recalled. “One of the things I told him was that first of all, there’s really no guarantee that wherever you go is going to be any better of a situation. With having to sit out, you might transfer, sit out, and then while you’re sitting out, some other guy may take off and play his tail off, and then all of the sudden you’re stuck.”

More than that, Richt said, Mason was learning and improving while working alongside Murray and quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. The coaches saw potential in Mason that would be useful once Murray left the lineup, whether by injury, by early entry into the NFL draft after the 2012 season or after Murray completed his full eligibility this fall.

“Learning the game of football and learning everything from defenses to the run game, all of the blocking schemes and protections and route concepts, everything that you have to learn in this system – it’s a lot, and he’s really learning football,” Richt said. “I thought he was getting better as he went.”

So they hatched a plan for Mason to redshirt in 2012, providing a year of class separation between himself and Murray so that Mason would have a chance to win the starting job as a senior next fall.

With Murray's season-ending knee injury, however, that opportunity came two games earlier than expected. Mason is preparing to make his first career start on Saturday against one of Georgia's biggest rivals, Georgia Tech.

Obviously, Murray's absence creates uncertainty entering the Tech game – “he was the most prolific passer in the history of the Southeastern Conference, so I think when you lose a guy like that, it doesn't help your chances,” Richt deadpanned earlier this week – but Mason had earned his coaches' and teammates' confidence long before leading Georgia's offense to four touchdowns and a field goal in five possessions against Kentucky last Saturday.

“I feel like I already know how he'll play, which is going to be very well,” junior receiver Michael Bennett said. “Because I know probably everyone on the team will tell you that because of what we see in practice. I know it's different, but you can just tell when a guy's kind of what we [call] a baller, like a gamer, and he's got it.”

Certainly these aren't ideal circumstances for Mason to make his starting debut, first because it came as a result of Murray's injury and second because it's against a Yellow Jackets defense that ranks 17th nationally with 342.6 yards allowed per game.

Mason's unflappable demeanor and capable practice performances gives the Bulldogs confidence and allows them to focus on other issues on offense.

“Hutson executes at the same level that Murray can, being in the system so long,” receiver Chris Conley said. “He just hasn't done it on a game field, I guess, until last Saturday. We're comfortable with him, we're comfortable with it and there's a lot of emphasis that falls on a lot of other people this week because Tech has a very good defense.

“And so we're not really worried about Hutson. There's so many other things that we as an offense have to get better at, and we have to be prepared for this weekend to have success.”

As Bennett and Conley both mentioned, though, what they have seen of Mason is largely limited to practice reps. Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium won't be practice, and it won't be mop-up duty against Appalachian State or in relief of Murray against Kentucky once Georgia had already built a big lead.

Saturday will represent Mason's biggest test to date, and his ability to handle the job is one of Georgia's biggest questions entering this game.

“People ask me what I look for in a quarterback: Is he an accurate passer? Is he a good decision-maker? Can he handle the pressure of the job?” Richt said. “Well, we’re about to find out if he can handle the pressure of the job.”

With Murray out, Mason's time is now

November, 24, 2013
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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.”

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIHutson Mason has been Aaron Murray's main backup at Georgia. But now he gets his chance in the spotlight.
Mason has been Murray's primary backup since arriving at Georgia in 2010, and he opted to redshirt last season instead of transferring in order to gain a year of class separation between himself and Murray. The idea was to have one final season where he could potentially serve as the starting quarterback.

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.”

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