The SEC East is once again stuck because of its depth and quality up top, as the three top schools already have one loss after two weeks of College Football. The good news for the Georgia Bulldogs? They made the right kind of start in conference play and maybe even more importantly, have a confident and lethal Aaron Murray playing behind center, despite what we saw from him in the opening weekend.
Georgia took a major step towards securing their dominance in the division once more with a 41-30 win over South Carolina, completing the 8 days of playing against the state’s schools with a 1-1 record but at least winning the one that mattered more – beating their division rival.
Aaron Murray got hit with plenty of criticism, again, after another weak performance in a big game. He barely made a single mistake as he completed 17-of-23 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns, as the Georgia offense shredded the Gamecocks for 538 yards of total offense.
The running game was bruising as usual, courtesy of Todd Gurley, running for 134 yards on 30 carries, scoring a touchdown. The big difference from the Clemson game was his ability to get around the tackles, as he managed to rush 10 times for 68 times on the wide routes, compared to only one run like that in the loss against Clemson. Keith Marshall, as always, did great as the aid in the running game with 58 yards on 7 carries.
But Murray was the story, as he won for only the second time in his career against a top 10 opponent, now owning a record of 2-6 against such rivals. There’s a pretty good chance that only LSU (coming up in two weeks) will be the last time he faces a top 10 team this season until Georgia reach (if they do) the SEC title game, as the Bulldogs (ranked 11th before the win over South Carolina) should be back in the top 10 by the next poll.
The key to Murray’s performance was his efficiency on third downs, going 6-of-7 in that situation, including two touchdown passes, averaging 19.9 yards per attempt on third down, which is 11 yards more than his career average before the game. Another thing was protection, and especially covering Jadeveon Clowney, who seems to be handling the pressure of the preseason hype in a less than desirable way.
The defensive end did get one sack on Murray, but his defense was better, according to the numbers, when he was off the field, as Georgia averaged 8.3 yards per play when he was on it, while only 2.8 during the 17 plays that didn’t involve him lining up.
Georgia didn’t exactly hold South Carolina down – Connor Shaw had a good performance, while Mike Davis ran for 149 yards and 16 carries, scoring a touchdown. But Georgia didn’t have to chase anyone, jumping to a 17-3 lead in the second quarter, and came back stronger each time South Carolina tied the game. They haven’t lost a game at home in which it led by 14+ since Nov. 2009 vs Kentucky.
Georgia now have the edge in the SEC East (with Florida losing to Miami as well), but it’s a tough division to predict, and there’s still that game to be played. If Aaron Murray can start games this way every time, or at least avoid early mistakes, the SEC East crown should be waiting for them once more at the end of this season.