Aaron Murray has always been a quarterback. He grew up in Tampa playing the position and admiring others who play it.
“For years now I’ve been watching Drew Brees,” Georgia’s sophomore quarterback said this week, “and I like watching Aaron Rodgers. I’ve actually gotten some film on them and been able to watch them in the off-season to see little things they do when it comes to footwork, to using their eyes and stuff like that.
“If there’s any two better quarterbacks in the NFL to watch, I don’t know any better than those two. I definitely looked at them closely.”
So closely that some might say he’s starting to resemble them.
Entering Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship-game showdown against No. 1 Louisiana State University, Murray is the favourite to earn All-SEC honours at quarterback. It would be only fitting since he began the season as the preseason all-conference choice of both media and coaches.
“I don’t think there’s any question [he]should be considered for all-conference honours,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “Certainly a guy that’s meant as much to his team as Aaron Murray has to Georgia [should be]”
Murray has recently played like an all-conference quarterback. Since the halfway point he has thrown for 19 touchdowns with only four interceptions. In the Bulldogs’ past four games, he has thrown for 876 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Murray currently leads the SEC in passing efficiency with a rating of 155.4. His 2,698 yards passing is second in the conference behind Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, and he has thrown for a school-record 32 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
But as the Bulldogs’ prepare to face the best defence they will have encountered this season, Murray is not spending a minute thinking about records or all-conference honours.
“Championships are all that matters,” Murray said. “When people talk about stats or this and that, I think the biggest stat is how many championships you’ve won. My goal is to win a few while I’m here, and my first one, my first opportunity is this weekend. So hopefully we’ll get that win and, from here on out, get a couple more.”
Enter LSU. The Tigers rank No. 2 in the United States in total defence and among the top six in pass defence (162 yards a game), pass-efficiency defence (95.8), rushing defence (86.1 yards a game) and scoring defence (10.6 points a game).
They also have the third-most takeaways in the SEC with 27 – behind South Carolina’s 30 and Georgia’s 29 – and feature a defensive back known as the “Honey Badger” for his propensity to take whatever he wants. Sophomore cornerback Tyrann Mathieu leads the Tigers with 66 tackles, has forced six fumbles, recovered four, has two interceptions and has scored two defensive touchdowns.
Mathieu is just one member of an all-star secondary. Coupled with what’s generally considered the best pass rush in the conference, it’s sure to be a challenging day for Murray and the Bulldogs’ offence.
“We’re going to have to make sure we’re on our game and prepare extra hard this week,” he said.
That may be the understatement of the year. But the Bulldogs believe they have a chance, thanks to their young quarterback.
“Murray is obviously one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” said centre Ben Jones, one of Murray’s best friends. “To have him under centre is great because it always gives us a chance to win. It just shows how important it is for us to do a good job on the front five, just to keep him upright and give him clear lanes. I feel like if he has time and opportunities to do what he does, we’ll have a great chance to win.”
The reality is Murray is not likely to enjoy such ideal conditions very often.
“Aaron has gotten to the point where I don’t think anyone questions his toughness mentally or physically,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “No one ever questions his preparation. No one questions his loyalty to the team. And I think everybody responds well to him when things get rough.”
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