- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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Georgia coach Mark Richt decided to quiz players Aaron Murray and Shawn Williams during their ride to the annual college football Pigskin Preview at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon, Ga.
Richt's question: "What are the three biggest drive-killers in football?"
"The first thing he said was turnovers and got that right," Richt said of Murray, the Bulldogs' junior starting quarterback. "Then Shawn helped him out and said penalties and I said, 'Right.' Then the third one, he said, 'Knowing what to do,' which we'd call missed assignments. If you don't turn it over and you don't have any penalties and you have very few missed assignments, you're going to move the ball and you're going to score. If you have a combination of those three [missteps], you're going to punt and you're going to turn it over and you're not going to score. You're going to make life miserable for everybody.
"The players can control really all three of those for the most part. That's Murray's job to make sure we're not turning the ball over, we're not in a situation where we don't know what to do."
This fall, the Bulldogs will count on Murray, the SEC's most experienced starting quarterback, to do a better job in that regard.
The Bulldogs ranked 80th out of 120 FBS teams last season with 25 lost turnovers. Murray, who threw 14 interceptions and lost a handful of back-breaking fumbles, realizes that he can play a bigger role than anyone else in reversing the turnover trend.
"In his defense, a couple of [the interceptions] were tipped balls and things of that nature -- things that maybe he couldn't totally control -- but he knows," Richt said. "He knows his job is crucial in regard to respecting and protecting the football. I think we all learn from our experiences."
With 27 starts to his credit, Murray has plenty of game experience to help form his opinions on what he and the Bulldogs must do to become a more efficient offense this season. He shared some of those areas of improvement while speaking with reporters in Macon:
• Executing offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's play calls: The first point Murray made in evaluating Georgia's offensive performance from a season ago was to accept blame for the Bulldogs' occasional lack of production. The issue wasn't the oft-derided playcalling by Bobo, Murray said, so much as missed assignments that derailed far too many potentially productive plays.
"A lot of people give Coach Bobo a lot of [grief] for playcalling, but we were scoring over 30 points a game mostly, and a lot of the time we weren't executing it," Murray said. "If fans could only go back and know what we were looking at when we were watching film, they would see that Coach Bobo did a great job putting us in a great position to make plays and score points and we just weren't executing when we needed to.
"That's something that we need to cut down this season and improve on. And make sure that we just stay mentally ready to go on every play, because you never know when that home run is going to come. You never know when that 60- or 70-yard run or pass is going to occur and you just have to be ready to execute that when it happens."
• Improving his footwork: Murray admitted that he can help address offensive efficiency issues individually by continuing to work on his footwork in the pocket as he prepares to throw. In fact, he said he's placing the most emphasis on his footwork this offseason.
"We've got a lot of drills and watched film and figured out things that I need to do," Murray said. "I definitely feel a lot better about my footwork right now and staying on balance and moving around the pocket. That's something that I've just got to continue working on all offseason."
Sloppy footwork is often undetectable to the untrained eye -- particularly when watching live versus slow-motion replay or during the team's postgame film sessions -- but it is often a root cause when plays go wrong. Sometimes a quarterback being able to sense pressure and take a step or two forward in the pocket means he can avoid a sack. Sometimes a slide step to the left or right will provide a clear throwing lane where he can connect on a pass that otherwise might have been intercepted.
"A lot of it was myself not just making subtle slides," Murray said. "As a quarterback, sometimes it's just a little step to the right, a little step to the left, up, back. It's just little subtle slides to find the open window to avoid a defender and at all times stay balanced to make an accurate throw."
• Becoming a smarter runner: Murray realizes that his making better decisions on when and how to run with the ball would not just help better protect the football, it would preserve his health.
In the previous two seasons, Murray has taken some vicious shots while running with the ball and has occasionally lost the ball when failing to slide -- early in the third quarter of the SEC championship game against LSU, for example, when his lost fumble in Georgia territory helped launch the Tigers' comeback victory.
"I don't think [coaches] told me to stop running. They told me to be more cautious and be a smarter runner, I guess, in getting out of bounds or getting down and saving my body," Murray said.
"I don't know what my problem is. I really just enjoy contact. I grew up playing defense so I kind of miss the whole hitting and stuff like that, so it's kind of hard for me. But I definitely think it's something I need to work on this offseason."
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