Aaron Murray understands what Saturday could do for his legacy.
He’s a quarterback -- the quarterback at Georgia -- and he knows that no matter how many yards he passes for or how many touchdown he tosses, people will judge him by his championship numbers.
“When people talk about stats or this and that, I think the biggest stat is how many championships you've won,” Murray said. “My goal is to win a few while I'm here, and my first one, my first opportunity is this weekend. So, hopefully get that win, and from here on out, get a couple more.”
That first shot comes in the Georgia Dome against No. 1 LSU (12-0, 8-0).
If Murray plays like he did during the second half of the Bulldogs’ season, No. 14 Georgia (10-2, 7-1) will have a chance to prove most of the country wrong. In his past six games, Murray, a redshirt sophomore, has passed for 19 touchdowns to four interceptions. Georgia averaged 36 points in all six wins.
To his standards, Murray had a sluggish start but took the second part of the season by storm. He downplays his improvements, saying he hunkered down in his playbook, talked with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo more often and tried to develop better timing and chemistry with his wide receivers.
It certainly paid off for Murray, who is second in the SEC with 2,698 passing yards and 32 touchdowns, and his Bulldogs, as Georgia is in the SEC title game for the first time since 2005.
For all the good that Murray has done, he is about to get the matchup every quarterback both loves and fears.
LSU’s secondary has terrorized quarterbacks for most of 2011. With a defensive backfield that starts with Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne and ends with 46 pass breakups and 16 interceptions, you have the makings of a quarterback’s worst nightmare.
“You think of SEC defenses, you think of speed,” Murray said, “and they have a whole other speed on top of that.”
LSU sports a legit track team in its secondary, forcing quarterbacks to crumble with decision-making.
“It's going to take everybody to have some success in the passing game, for sure,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
It will also take patience from LSU to have success against Murray.
LSU coach Les Miles compared Murray’s ability to Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson’s, but said Murray is better when it comes to pocket presence. He’s more mature and confident back there, Miles said.
“He's the kind of guy that you have to make sure you're responsible,” Miles said. “Your coverage, you have to focus your eyes and make sure you're over the top. The guy that can move the ball around to as many receivers as he gets it to, you have to have the ability to play coverage and certainly play coverage with the ability to get some pressure on that quarterback without necessarily calling extra guys in the rush.”
Murray doesn’t let pressure get to him that often because he has the legs to move around and outside the pocket. He provides his receivers with more time, and when nothing opens up, he can take off. He’s no speedster, but he gets just enough burst to slip by defenders.
“He actually can run a lot better than people actually think, and he's probably one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the SEC,” LSU safety Brandon Taylor said. “He knows how to manage a game well, and he limits his mistakes, and he doesn't make very many of them.”
Mistakes are a death sentence when facing LSU defensive backs who joke about and compare their big plays, like big game hunters boast about their kills.
“You just can't point just anyone out because the whole secondary as a whole, we've made a ton of plays,” Claiborne said.
This group has done just as well when it’s had all of its parts compared to when it hasn’t. When Mathieu was suspended for the Auburn game, LSU gave up 161 passing yards. When Eric Reid -– maybe LSU’s best safety –- missed the Arkansas game, the Tigers held the league’s top passing team to just 207 yards.
But Murray said he believes he has a crew good enough to stand up to the Tigers. He has grit and speed in tight end Orson Charles. Tavarres King provides the leadership and big-catch ability. And freshman Malcolm Mitchell has every bit the talent of most veteran wideouts.
Murray has some fun pieces to work with, and they’ve improved, just like him.
“Right now, they're feeling confident,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in our young guys, and we're ready to go.”