Dawgs' Murray carves up Tigers

ATHENS, Ga. -- Aaron Murray still bears a scar on his chin that came from a nasty hit by Auburn's Nick Fairley last season.

Any remaining wounds to his psyche likely healed at Sanford Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as Georgia's quarterback picked apart 24th-ranked Auburn's secondary in the 14th-ranked Bulldogs' 45-7 blowout win.

Murray completed 13 of 16 passes in the first half for 216 yards and four touchdowns, claiming Georgia's single-season touchdown record and earning his first career victory against a ranked opponent.

"Coach [Mark Richt] says all the time when you prepare for a test and you go into that test and know you're going to do well because you're prepared for the test. I think that's how Murray is," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He studies, he knows his material, and he's relaxed and just goes out there and plays. He has been confident all week. I'm a nervous wreck every week going into the game, and he's like, 'Coach, we're ready.' "

Murray led the Bulldogs to successful conversions on each of their first seven third downs, including third-down touchdown passes to Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell as the Bulldogs built a 35-7 halftime lead.

It was a remarkably composed performance from a quarterback who was bullied and battered in the loss to Auburn last year, but Murray said that was not his prime motivation on Saturday. The Bulldogs needed a win to stay atop the SEC East standings and require only a victory next Saturday against Kentucky to clinch Georgia's first appearance in the SEC championship game since winning the league title in 2005.

"I really wasn't focused on that at all," Murray said of last year's game. "It's two new teams, and we knew we needed to win this game to stay on top of the East."

Nonetheless, his performance was rewarding both for the team and for himself.

He finished 14-for-18 for 224 yards and four touchdowns, hitting King, Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Bruce Figgins on touchdown passes that gave him 27 this season -- breaking Matthew Stafford's single-season school record of 25 set in 2008.

In a span of three quarters between the second quarter of last week's win against New Mexico State -- Murray didn't play in the second half of that blowout win -- and the first half against Auburn, the sophomore quarterback tossed nine scoring passes.

"I don't know if we've ever been like this," Bennett said. "Aaron's playing out of his mind."

He also moved closer to SEC history.

With at least three games left to play -- four if the Bulldogs reach the conference title game -- Murray has 51 touchdown passes between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Former Florida quarterback Rex Grossman's 55 are the most in SEC history for a quarterback between his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Murray is also in position to threaten former Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson's single-season SEC record of 40 touchdown passes, assuming he plays four more games. He has thrown 14 touchdown passes in the last four games and needs 14 more to reach 41 this season.

"He's playing really well," Richt said. "I can't hardly say anything that I'm really concerned about right now with him. I just hope he keeps doing it."

With all that was at stake Saturday, Murray took perhaps his most significant step toward delivering on the promise that accompanied his selection as the preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback.

Murray had a shaky outing in the Bulldogs' loss to South Carolina early in the year, and some observers began to whisper about him possibly experiencing a dreaded sophomore slump, but he rebounded to lead Georgia to eight consecutive wins.

None of those victories provided more decisive evidence of the progress Murray has made since inheriting the starting job last season than Saturday's win over Auburn.

"Aaron did a great job," Bobo said. "He trusted it and he threw it. He threw what he saw. He didn't overthink things, and I think that's why he had success."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.