AUBURN, Ala. — It was a very happy birthday for Aaron Murray.
On the day, the Georgia quarterback turned 22, he spent Saturday night celebrating a return trip to the SEC championship game with a 38-0 win over Auburn.
“This is probably one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had to get the Eastern division championship, it’s a great feeling,” Murray said.
Murray’s parents sent him balloons and chocolate covered strawberries in the shape of a football to the team’s hotel that were there when he arrived on Friday.
His parents — Dennis and Lauren — make the trip for all of Aaron’s games, but weren’t in Auburn on this night.
They were back home in Tampa after his father underwent radiation treatment for thyroid cancer. He had surgery on Oct. 8.
“Kind of sad,” Murray said. “It’s the first game he’s missed since I don’t know, I’ve been playing since I was 8 years old. He wanted to be here, I wanted him to be here, but the best thing was for him. Right now, the diagnosis is great.”
His sister, Stephanie, and brother, Josh, made the trip to Alabama.
“They tweeted me that, ‘We’re your mom and dad for the day,’ so it was pretty cool,” Murray said.
For the record, Murray downed three of the chocolate strawberries the day before the game.
Roomate and tight end Arthur Lynch finished off two and linebacker Christian Robinson had another.
“You’ve got to enjoy yourself a little bit,” Murray said.
“They were good,” Lynch said. “We were surprised. … They were big stawberries. Two were enough for me.”
Chocolate strawberries aside, Murray’s numbers and play were strong against an Auburn defense that was 13th in the SEC in total defense.
He completed 18 of 24 passes for 208 yards with three touchdowns and didn’t throw an incompletion until his 11th pass of the game in the second quarter on a deep ball to Malcolm Mitchell.
“Aaron was really sharp,” coach Mark Richt said. “We had a couple of really good red zone plays that were run to perfection early on that was big. I think coach (Mike) Bobo did a really good job of scheming and everybody executed very well.”
Bobo, Georgia’s offensive coordinator, said Murray played “awesome” in the first half.
“He was going to the right guy every time,” Bobo said. “He was on the money and when he was off a little bit, guys were making plays for him. He was in synch. He said he felt great after warmups, said he wanted to sling it every down. I don’t think he slung it that much, but I thought he did a nice job tonight.”
Murray took a licking and kept on slinging.
He was knocked hard to the ground when he was hit backward by linebacker Cassanova McKinzy in the second quarter.
He came out of the game for a play, but returned.
“Just a little sore, nothing terrible,” Murray said. “I could have played the next play, but I thought it would be best if I just took the play off and got back in the next play, that way I wasn’t hobbling around or anything like that.”
Murray came back in on a third-and 7 and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King.
“Guys were getting open, guys were making plays,” Murray said. “The line did a great job all night. I can’t complain too much.”
Murray’s three touchdown passes give him 83 in his career, moving him past former Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning for fifth on the SEC career list. Former Florida quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Chris Leak are tied for third with 88.
“His hard work and dedication off the field is what gets him these successes and statistics on the field,” Lynch said. “He’s played great the past couple of weeks. You take away that first half against Florida — he wants to take it away too — and he’s played damn near perfect.”
Lynch went so far as to push Murray for top quarterback in a conference with a freshman sensation at Texas A&M in Johnny Manziel.
“I know they’ve got Johnny Football over there,” Lynch said. “He’s doing well, but in my opinion I wouldn’t want anyone else behind center on my team other than Aaron Murray.”