It seems kind of quaint in retrospect. Back in August we believed that we had perhaps the nation's best offensive line. That unit has now been scrapped in favor of a group that includes a true freshman and a guy coming off his second knee surgery. We thought we might have the top tailback rotation in the SEC. They've spent more time behind bars than in the end zone. We thought that our talented tight end rotation would be burning up the league. They've been mostly MIA, to the point that some may even be packing it in and trying again next season. We thought we'd have a talented defense still finding its way in a new system, but still improved over the prior season's iteration. Ok, we may have been right about that one.
But it turns out that Aaron Murray may have been the one cog in the collective Bulldog machine that was better than advertised. Quick, off the top of your head, which SEC quarterback leads the league in TD/INT ratio. Ryan Mallett? Please. Greg McElroy? Surely you jest. That would be Aaron Murray, currently tossing 3.33 scores (10 total) for every pick (3).Of all the things Coaches Richt and Bobo have asked Aaron Murray to do, this was #1 on the list. And he's complied. By the way, the last time a Georgia quarterback finished the season with better than a 2.5:1 TD/INT ratio? D.J. Shockley in 2005.
What about that old trope of a stat, Passer Rating? Murray's a respectable 5th in the conference at 152.07. That's significantly above Joe Cox's 2009 rating of 135.92. Perhaps surprisingly, it's almost in a dead heat with Matt Stafford's 2008 effort (153.54, which was good enough for 2nd in the SEC that season behind Tim Tebow). It's solidly ahead of the numbers Stafford put up in 2007 (128.92) and 2006 (108.98). You have to go back to D.J. Shockley's workmanlike evisceration of the SEC in 2005 (a league leading 148.25 rating) to find a Bulldog quarterback that efficient (sensing a pattern here?). There's a lot of football to be played, and some decent defenses to play it against.
Of course, it's not all gumdrops and roses. Murray is squarely in the middle of the pack in yards per pass attempt (a merely respectable 8.7) and completion percentage (61.8%). On an unrelated note, your statistical anomaly of the day is this: no SEC quarterback who's played in at least 75% of his team's games has completed less than 50% of his passes. No really, there are handy tables for this sort of thing. Jordan Jefferson's 52.5% completion percentage would be even higher if he were allowed to count the 7 passes completed to young men who do not attend school in Baton Rouge. The 0 thrown to people who believe that Les Miles could pass a mental fitness exam sufficient to allow him to sign a Will or serve on a submarine would not affect Jefferson's position one iota.
If I told you in July that Aaron Murray would be more efficient as a passer than Matt Stafford ever was, I bet you'd have taken it. If I'd told you after his performance against Louisiana-Lafayette that Murray would average 0.4 interceptions per game versus BCS conference competition through the first half of the season, you would have asked how many Arson Charleses I'd consumed and encourage me to stop there.
One would hope that Murray's learning curve will only continue through the second half of his inaugural campaign as a starter. Statistically, a healthy/eligible A.J. Green would go a long way toward helping his cause. All of this is before we even consider the entirely new dimension Murray brings to the game with his ability to tuck it and run (a skill which Joe Cox never possessed but which Stafford possessed in greater measure than he got credit for). Murray has currently rushed for 122 yards and 4 touchdowns. That's 1 more score than Ole Miss's Jeremiah Massoli, twice as many as Florida's Jeff Demps, twice as many as Auburn's Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer combined, and (here's the real kicker) 1 more than all other Georgia backs combined (1 each for Shaun Chapas, Caleb King and Washaun Ealey).
In short, most of us have had a vague notion that Aaron Murray was showing the intangible traits that will make him one of the SEC's best quarterbacks over the next several seasons. We were mistaken. Aaron Murray is in fact showing tangible skills which have him among the most effective SEC quarterbacks this season and, from a purely statistical standpoint, as the best Georgia quarterback of the last half decade.
The early returns are surely as good as we could have hoped for, and a good bit better than we (perhaps I) might have feared. There's still plenty of time for one of those games that freshman quarterbacks tend to have that make you absolutely blind with frustration. Like that time Matt Stafford once single-handedly increased Rich Brooks' standing in the state of Kentucky 35% overnight. But at this point, if you're looking for a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season, Aaron Murray's about as bright as it gets. Until later . . .