Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray grew up in Tampa and will start under center for the second time in his career against Florida.
ATHENS — The most revealing total in Georgia’s three straight losses to Florida is 12-1.
That’s the lopsided turnover margin Aaron Murray must address when No. 22 Georgia plays Florida on Saturday in Jacksonville.
Georgia’s 12 turnovers in the three losses include three interceptions by the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback each year: Matthew Stafford in 2008, Joe Cox in 2009 and Murray last season. Logan Gray played behind Cox in 2009 and added a fourth interception.
Murray also lost a fumble in last year’s 34-31 overtime loss to the Gators. His contributions to the imbalance in turnovers were especially painful because the Tampa native was returning to his home state.
Murray, a third-year sophomore, says he can’t repeat his freshman mistakes during his second appearance in the rivalry game. He said he’ll have better control of his emotions this time.
“I was definitely very excited,” Murray said of his first start against Florida. “Growing up, I wasn’t a big Florida fan, but obviously living in Florida means you are going to watch the Georgia-Florida game.”
Murray continued: “Going from seeing it on TV and then actually getting in that stadium and being a part of it, it was definitely a lot of nerves, a lot of jitters, a lot of butterflies.”
Murray passed for 313 yards and three touchdowns but couldn’t overcome the turnovers and a 21-7 halftime deficit.
“I didn’t start off the way I wanted to offensively, but we pushed through and had an unbelievable second half,” he said. “I think I’ve definitely matured and I understand what the environment is going to be like. I’m definitely a lot more mature to handle the situation.”
Murray trails only Tyler Wilson of Arkansas among the Southeastern Conference leaders with his average of 236.1 yards passing per game. He has passed for 16 touchdowns — best in the SEC — with seven interceptions.
He set a career high with 326 yards passing with three touchdowns in a 33-28 win over Vanderbilt on Oct. 15 for Georgia’s fifth straight win.
Florida defensive end Sharrif Floyd said he’s not impressed with a Bulldogs offense led by Murray and freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell.
“We’re obviously focusing on Georgia, but it’s not really just him we’re looking at,” Floyd said of Murray. “It’s the running back and him. But I really didn’t see nothing outstanding.”
Georgia (5-2, 4-1) is tied with South Carolina for first place in the SEC’s Eastern Division. Murray and the Bulldogs need to end their streak of three straight losses to Florida to boost their hopes of playing in the SEC championship game.
Murray said the key is protecting the ball.
“Last year we definitely had some mistakes on offense that cost us,” he said. “You just have to play like they’re any other team. If we execute like we’ve been executing on both sides of the ball in this five-game winning streak, I think we’ll be fine.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt says he has taken different approaches to the rivalry game at the neutral site in Jacksonville in his first 10 years as coach. This year he says he’s trying to treat this as just a normal game, even though he acknowledges that beating Florida is the No. 1 priority for many Georgia fans.
Richt says his approach includes how he’ll handle Murray’s return to his home state.
“I think the less said the better,” Richt said. “We’re trying to focus real hard on not the fact that it’s in Jacksonville, not the fact that it’s even Florida. We’re looking at the team we’re playing as far as their personnel, their scheme.
“If you are a quarterback, what’s really important? ... It’s important to know if there is enough crowd noise that you are going to have to deal with that. It’s important to know what jersey numbers they wear and what positions they play and what types of tendencies they have in the red zone or third down. Those are the things we are focusing on, not so much that it’s Florida, not so much that it’s his home-state team.”
Murray said the overtime loss to Florida “was probably the toughest to swallow” in Georgia’s disappointing 6-7 season in 2010.
“I think being from there definitely hurt, but I think just being that we were that close to winning the game ... if we would have been able to finish off a great win over them could have helped us finish the season off strong last year,” Murray said.
Murray said he agrees with Richt’s approach to treat this like any other game. The sophomore added he’s willing to embrace the added nerves that will be a part of the atmosphere in Jacksonville.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a little jitters,” he said. “That’s what is so great about playing and that is what is so great about being a part of such a great game and a great rivalry.
“You’re going to have those butterflies, you’re going to have a little bit of nerves. I think that’s what gets you so pumped up. I know for me, it motivates me to get in there and work hard during the week and get more prepared.
“Once you use it to your advantage, it can be a very positive thing.”