In case you didn’t already know it, Aaron Murray has a big game this weekend—a career-defining one if you believe what you read—and he hasn’t forgotten the way things ended last season. How could he?
…Murray had an interception returned for a touchdown, a fumble returned for a touchdown and did not successfully complete a handoff with tailback Isaiah Crowell, resulting in a fumble that Gamecocks cornerback Stephon Gilmore returned back near the UGA goal line, setting up yet another touchdown.
While Murray’s miscues were certainly not the only ones by a Georgia player that afternoon, he still cringes as he reviews the plays he’d love to take back that contributed to the Bulldogs losing an eminently winnable game.
“When you go back to watch the film, as preparation, as aid, it’s still painful to watch,” Murray said. “I don’t like to watch it too much.”
…“I was watching myself during my film this weekend and I’m just like, ‘Man, I was terrible last year,’ ” Murray said. “I just was comparing myself when it comes to my footwork, when it comes to my accuracy and I just feel like I’ve developed so much more as a quarterback.” (David Ching, “Murray different QB from one in 2011 loss”, Dawgnation, 10/3/12)
It’s hard to argue that fact with the numbers Murray has put up so far this season (88/129, 1370 yards, 12 touchdowns, and three interceptions), but this weekend offers the first real test of how much Murray has truly matured as a quarterback and how well he can adjust to the big game atmosphere—Murray has admitted he can get too amped up before games sometimes, and that can often lead to early miscues (such was the case in Georgia’s season opener against Buffalo).
However, from a fundamental standpoint, Murray feels he’s finally come into his and he knows that once he settles in, he’s not likely to revert to old habits; habits that contributed to a fair degree of the criticism he’s received over the years.
And some would be inclined to agree.
Over the summer, Murray was a camp counselor at the popular ‘Manning Passing Academy’, sponsored by the Manning family and held in Louisiana each season. Murray was slated to have been a coach prior to the 2011 season, but was unable to attend due to academic conflicts. However, true to his word, he made sure to get there this past summer and, to hear him tell it, he took everything the two Super Bowl winning quarterback brothers (Peyton and Eli) had to say about what truly makes a quarterback great at his position, to heart.
It resonated with Murray that the Manning brothers are quarterbacks who have the notion that playing the position is not about arm strength. Footwork, drops, and downfield awareness are just as important as flinging the ball deep. “They are so accurate,” Murray said. “That is the first thing you notice. Then you see them doing the little things that are vital — they are very disciplined quarterbacks. Their timing is so impressive. You can tell how much they love the game. They are always trying to work to improve.”
Murray picked up a few drills from the Mannings, workouts he is utilizing this fall…
…At the Manning camp, Aaron watched Peyton’s rapid-fire, chopping steps as he dropped back to set up to throw. A key element in Aaron’s training in the spring was working with Bobo on his footwork. Aaron watched Eli’s drop back and timing routine, keeping his eyes downfield. That is something else he and Bobo have worked on. “Aaron works hard at all phases of quarterbacking,” Bobo says, “and I think it will pay off for us this season.” (Loran Smith, “Loran Smith: Murray draws praise from mighty Mannings”, OnlineAthens, 8/21/12)
So far this season, it’s hard not to notice Murray’s improved pocket presence, his more accurately thrown deep balls, his steadier footwork and his ability to adjust his line protections when necessary to avoid being sacked; this year, even with a young line, he has only been downed seven times behind the line of scrimmage (he was sacked 30+ times last year).
Of course, most will attribute the low number of sacks to Georgia’s not having faced a significant pass rush yet but, even so, the maturation of Murray as a leader cannot be denied. He’s hungry for another shot to prove he’s the type of quarterback who can lead his team to championships and it’s clear he has the work ethic and the focus to do whatever is necessary to make that happen—he’s willing to put it all on his shoulders and be accountable, even if the fault is not totally his own.
And, with Georgia finally finding a running game to be confident in, and seeing a young line gaining confidence with each obstacle faced, you have to feel good about the Bulldogs’ ability to remain competitive and in the hunt with Murray standing behind center.
The Murray of last year felt the need to do it all by himself and, perhaps at times, did more to the detriment of his team than for the good. But, this season, it’s easy to see that he’s playing smarter and making a more concerted effort to get everyone around him involved.
One last thought, just a little FYI if you will.
An NFL scout evaluated each Division-I quarterback at the ‘Manning Passing Academy’ this summer, giving his opinion on what he felt the strengths and weaknesses of each one was; here’s what he had to say about Murray after watching him perform all week.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray was shorter than I anticipated, but he was outstanding during Saturday night’s throwing session. This junior is a good inch shorter than senior counterparts Barkley and Wilson, but he matched them throw for throw. He has very clean footwork in his drops, as well as a compact delivery. Murray can generate a lot of velocity and his accuracy was excellent at all three levels. I was surprised at how powerfully he threw the deep ball. Murray had as much range as any quarterback at the camp.
The praise for Murray has been much the same all off-season. He’s put in the work and he’s ready to show what he can do and the first payoff for him will hopefully come Saturday night.