Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Aaron Murray vs Williams-Brice Stadium

via Getty Images
Through five games you have to give the offensive MVP to Aaron Murray. Dude is having himself a helluva season thus far. It's terrific what the freshmen tailbacks are doing, but the huddle is one man's alone. Murray is using clear language to communicate. What's more is he is putting his money where his mouth is once the ball is snapped.

If you're like me you might have gone so far as to scoff when the talk was of 70% completion percentage this year. I didn't laugh it off as impossible, not by any means. But I was more concerned with him throwing the ball away when necessary and limiting the interceptions. And through five games he's doing just that, and doing it very well. His TD/int ratio is well ahead of last year and he's clearly as comfortable in the pocket as we've seen during his tenure. When guys miss assignments or routes he's on them. His leadership has developed an edge to it, an edge of accountability.

What's more is he's right at a 68% completion clip. And while he owns that statistic, his teammates are very much a part of it. From the guys giving him the time to check down to the guys making the catch.

Tyler Bray has the NFL arm and all the sick non-conference stats. Yet our quarterback just rated 80 points better than him Saturday night. Bray completed just over half his throws and averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt. Murray completed 76% of his passes for over 11 yards per attempt. He might have to look up to Bray in terms of height, but the Tennessee quarterback couldn't come close to rising to Murray's level Saturday night.

Yes, Murray has answered all the questions we had for him coming into the season and passed the first quiz glowingly. But the mid-term comes Saturday...winning the big game. Aside from last year's game in Atlanta with the SEC trophy on the line, this is the biggest game of Murray's career. 

Unfortunately according to history, Columbia has not been kind to Georgia quarterbacks: 

Quincy Carter
David Greene*
David Greene
Matt Stafford**
Matt Stafford
Aaron Murray

77-146 (52%)
* DJ Shockley was 0-3
** Joe Tereshinki was 2-3 for 18 yards

So in the last six visits combined, our starting quarterbacks have not passed for more than 1000 yards, have only completed 52% of their passes and have only two touchdowns compared to nine interceptions. And to be fair it's not just the passing game that has trouble getting to the endzone. Since 2000 there have only been a total of six touchdowns: three rushing, two passing and one miracle interception. Field goals have been the norm, but they rarely help in adding up to victory.

That may not sound like much room for optimism. And maybe I should've gone back further than 2000 to see if there was ever anything close to rose colored glasses to look at this, but we have gone 4-2 in Columbia during that span despite the difficulties scoring. Plus, our quarterbacks that have had the pleasure of two visits to Williams-Brice Stadium, performed better (albeit without blowing the doors off the place) the second time around. And Murray didn't do anything desperate to hurt us his freshman year against the Gamecocks.

Perhaps most importantly, Murray has a running game to complement his passing game this season. More than anything else that should help open up some passing lanes against a defense that is ranked 48th in the country against the pass., keeping in mind that the same defense is ranked 7th nationally against the run. 

So the formula for success in Columbia is likely the same as it has been for some time - don't try and win the game in one play, wait for the right play to open up, and a punt can be your friend. Aside from David Greene in 2004, Murray has more experience than all of those guys listed in the chart. My hope is that he passes this mid-term exam Saturday night. I believe there are plenty of yards in the Carolina secondary to do it. But if history has taught us anything, it is that nothing comes easily at Williams-Brice Stadium. 

[post note - stats obtained from a variety of sources including cfbstats.com and sports-reference.com as well as georgiadogs.com]


Hamp Tanner said...

Great article Bernie. We have to play close to mistake free in all three phases to beat the Cocks. I think starting field position will be a major factor. Against Vandy, we had a huge advantage in that metric but against Tennessee it was the reverse. I believe, as you have identified, our hopes in this game rest on the cool, calm and collected play of our veteran quarterback. I hope he aces this midterm!

Bernie said...

If I get a chance I might go back and look further back. Maybe even put the rushing stats side by side against the passing. Playing in ColaEast is like a prostate exam. Never easy. Always uncomfortable. But as long as you don't wiggle too much it's over soon and can usually bring good news.

Wasn't fun poring over these stats, but if it helps exorcise some demons I'll gladly take one for the team.