Chris White: Bulldogs follow Murray’s lead

Georgia tight end Orson Charles saw Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray take control of a team when they were teammates at Plant High in Tampa, Fla.

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Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray (11) greets a fan during the dogwalk before Coastal Carolina faces Georgia in an NCAA college football game at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, September 17, 2011 in Athens, Ga.

It has been three years since Charles’ final season with the Panthers, but he said there is little difference from those days when Murray is on the field.

“He really didn’t change much,” Charles said. “He was just a natural born leader.”

Murray’s ability to rally a team behind him has been put to the test this season as the redshirt sophomore quarterback has taken Georgia out of its 0-2 start to a position nearly all SEC teams would love to occupy — the top of a division.

And along the way, as much as Murray may downplay his own achievements, he has left a mark in Georgia’s offense.

Murray set a school record for touchdown passes in a quarter and in a half with five in the second quarter and tied the team record for touchdown passes in a game in Saturday’s rout of New Mexico State.

It was a mismatched pushover game the Bulldogs scheduled for homecoming, but nearly ever starter in the team’s history has had a cupcake game or two in which to run up statistics.

For a more practical view, examine Murray’s season statistics. His 23 passing touchdowns is one shy of last year’s total and has him tied for 11th among FBS quarterbacks with eight of the nine quarterbacks in front of him by five or fewer touchdowns. It’s the best tally in the SEC, and his 228.9 passing yards per game trails only Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson in the conference.

There have been some low points — namely an SEC-leading eight interceptions, including three against Mississippi State — but Georgia coach Mark Richt said he has confidence that Murray is taking strides.

“I think Murray has progressed extremely well,” Richt said. “I think he’s a good quarterback. He’s a great leader. … I’m glad we got him. I think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in our league if not the best, and we’re real pleased with Aaron Murray.”

Charles’ review was a bit more emphatic.

“I feel like it takes a tremendous leader and warrior to bounce back from everybody saying he’s throwing too many picks or that he needs to be benched and all this and all that, just being negative,” Charles said. “For him to come out here and throw five touchdowns in the last game and continue to watch film and continue to do all the other stuff he needs to do, I really respect him as a person and as a player to just come out, to come back and bounce back.”

But maybe Murray’s biggest test is still ahead of him this season beginning with Saturday’s game against No. 20 Auburn, a game in which Murray has the opportunity to defeat a ranked opponent for the first time. But there is also something new for the quarterback to handle. With the Bulldogs now in controlling the SEC East, the pressure has shifted as the Bulldogs switch from playing catch-up to fending off potential upsets.

“I definitely think it’s a little more difficult to play when you’re in front,” Murray said. “When people are patting you on the back and you’re feeling great. But our guys don’t listen to the outside stuff, all the noise about you are in the lead, you have a chance to get back to Atlanta. We’re worried about getting better every day in practice and continuing to set us up with a chance to compete for an SEC championship game. We still have two tough challenges to face in the SEC, and we have to continue working hard if we want to make it there.”

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