Southeastern Conference championship week already included plenty of talk about how No. 3 Georgia’s fortunes could ride on the play of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.
The three-year starter won’t be weighing in on the topic leading up to Saturday’s game against No. 2 Alabama in the Georgia Dome.
Murray pulled himself from all interviews this week, the school said on Monday, after ducking out after Saturday’s 42-10 rout of Georgia Tech instead of holding court as he usually does in the Bulldogs’ locker room.
Murray’s decision — the school said he “requested that he be relieved of interview duties this week and coach (Mark) Richt approved” — is a new tactic for a player who is among the most accessible on the team. He is a regular at Tuesday’s weekly lunchtime player interviews.
The redshirt junior from Tampa is having his finest season (he leads the nation in passing efficiency) and has been near-flawless in his last four games (completing 73.2 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions), but has struggled against the top defenses.
“I’m sure he hears it,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Saturday. “He’s excited about this week, so he’ll get another chance to prove it this week against arguably one of the best defenses in the country.”
Linebacker Christian Robinson, Murray’s roommate, chalked up Murray’s decision to not speak to the media to being dedicated to being prepared for the game. A win would put Georgia in the BCS national title game.
“He wasn’t at the house yesterday,” Robinson said Monday afternoon. “He was here (at the football complex) studying film all day.”
Added senior receiver Tavarres King not long after: “About six minutes ago, I was just in there with him watching film on Alabama.”
Murray got his first win against a top-10 team in his fifth try against No. 3 Florida on Oct. 27, but he threw three first-half interceptions and finished 12 of 24 for 150 yards with a touchdown. In the Bulldogs’ 35-7 loss at No. 6 South Carolina, he completed 11 of 31 passes for 109 yards and an interception.
“Bad decision-making, poor fundamentals, he may have gotten rattled in some of those games by hits early,” former Florida quarterback Jesse Palmer, an ESPN analyst, said on air Sunday. “He’ll have to play much better in this game. … The quarterback position with two great defenses will determine who wins this game.”
Florida and South Carolina are the only top-15 defenses Murray and the Bulldogs have faced so far this season. Alabama is rated No. 1.
“There’s got to be a patience level and understand that it’s important at the end of every drive to have a kick,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “If it’s a punt, it’s OK. Punting’s OK. We just got to make sure we’re not trying to do more than any play is set up to do. If something is there, we got to be able to hit it in the passing game. If it’s not, we got to be able to throw it away. We got to just to manage the game well, be wise and be patient.”
Murray’s appearance in last year’s SEC championship game was a rough one, too, in a 42-10 Georgia loss to LSU. He completed 16 of 40 passes for 163 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, and he was sacked four times.
With Georgia ahead 10-7 in the third quarter, Murray fumbled on a scramble that was recovered at Georgia’s 27 by Tyrann Mathieu. His final pass of the game was returned 45 yards for a touchdown by Mo Claiborne.
“The last time people got to see Aaron Murray play in a big-time game was against Florida,” D.J. Shockley, the last quarterback to lead Georgia to an SEC title in 2005, said Sunday night on WSB-TV. “He has to play well. This is a defining moment in his career, I believe, just because it’s the biggest game of the season.”
Asked if Murray has tried to do too much in big games, Richt said: “Well, I think all QBs want to make a big play in a big game. All players want to make a big play in a big game. There’s a time and place for everything. You have to understand when a play presents itself, then you got to make the big play. If it doesn’t present itself, burn the ball, get rid of it.”
Murray is the first player in SEC history to pass for 3,000 yards three straight seasons and is tied with Peyton Manning on the league’s career touchdown list with 89, but he has said winning championships drives him more than records.
“I see a guy that’s playing confident,” Bobo said. “I see a guy that’s playing like we thought he would play this year, how he practiced in camp that knows where he’s going with the ball and delivering the ball with authority. He’s done that extremely well the last four or five weeks.”
Now he gets a chance to do it in the biggest stage of his career.
“I know this one means so much to him,” Robinson said. “He works his tail off every day and people really don’t see that sometimes. I think he just wants to be completely ready and not have any distractions. … This is the biggest game of our career.”