heading into today's SEC showdown with Ole Miss, Aaron Murray is one of 10 finalists for the Johnny Unitas Award, which is given annually to the nation's top quarterback.
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WHO: Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2) at No. 6 UGA (7-1, 5-1).
WHAT: UGA needs to win final two SEC contests to clinch title game spot, starting today.
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. today.
RADIO: Albany— 1450 AM or 103.5 FM; Americus — 98.7 FM or 1390 AM; Donalsonville — 106.3 FM; Moultrie 93.9 FM or 1300 AM.
LINE: Bulldogs by 14.
ATHENS — Tavarres King scoffs at the idea Georgia players could have difficulty playing with the same intensity in today’s game against Mississippi that they showed in last week’s upset of then-No. 3 Florida.
The 17-9 win against the Gators gave No. 6 Georgia, which is ranked No. 7 in the most recent BCS poll, control of the SEC’s Eastern Division. To earn a repeat trip to the championship game, quarterback Aaron Murray and the Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1) must beat Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2) and then win at Auburn next week.
King, the senior receiver, says Georgia’s control of its fate in the division is a precious prize — and more than ample incentive against the Rebels.
King had a quick answer when asked if Georgia players had more motivation last week than against Ole Miss.
“Heck no,” King said. “It is ours. We know that. We want it to stay ours.”
The high-scoring Rebels, with their fast-paced, no-huddle offense, could be a dangerous opponent for even a properly motivated Georgia team.
Ole Miss will be playing to extend a two-game winning streak and qualify for a bowl in coach Hugh Freeze’s first season.
The Rebels scored a combined 71 points in back-to-back wins against Auburn and Arkansas. Georgia also runs a no-huddle offense, but coach Mark Richt said Ole Miss, led by quarterback Bo Wallace, runs their offense at a faster pace.
“They just have a really good offensive package and a good scheme,” Richt said. “It’s a challenging, balanced attack. They’re very high tempo, and you have to get lined up in a hurry when you play these guys. They’ll sub some, but to go as fast as they go, they’re doing it without doing a lot of subbing at times.
“Our biggest challenge is just going to be to line up and get ready, because they’ve caught a lot of people not being ready and they’ve taken advantage of that.”
Georgia’s defense re-emerged in the win against Florida after a string of shaky performances, including an ugly 35-7 loss to South Carolina.
Players and coaches said the main problem on defense before the Florida game had been poor communication and difficulty having all players in the proper alignment.
There will be little time for communication on defense against the Rebels.
Freeze said running the no-huddle offense can be a gamble if the Rebels are stopped on three downs. Quick punts can put too much pressure on Mississippi’s defense against a balanced Georgia offense.
Freeze said “it is very tempting” to make a full commitment to the high-tempo pace, but he said he has to remain aware of the risks.
“These games are so long,” Freeze said. “When you’re playing teams like Georgia, who has those receivers and running backs, every time they touch it you hold your breath thinking they could score. I have a defensive staff that will hope you can slow this one down a little bit. It’s a balancing act.”
Freeze said he will have only about 64 healthy players against Georgia.
“If we were a little deeper in the secondary and at defensive end, it would be even more tempting,” he said. “It’s still tempting. It’s not going to be effective all of the time, and you know when it’s not effective you’re going to be out there a span of about 40-45 seconds. Certainly Georgia has the type of players and coaches that are going to make it unsuccessful at times. … I’m not confident that we’re deep enough to go score 60 against Georgia to win a game.”
Wallace set career highs with 29 completions and 37 attempts and passed for 278 yards with a touchdown in the 30-27 win at Arkansas.
The Rebels, who are averaging 32.4 points, already have surpassed their 2011 totals for wins, total yards, points and yards passing.
Murray threw three interceptions as the Georgia offense struggled against Florida.
“Definitely some errors,” Murray said. “A lot of it had to do with my footwork. I wasn’t balanced. That was something I prided myself on in the offseason and in camp on getting better on, and I might have taken a slight step backward in that category this past week.”
The Bulldogs haven’t regained their momentum after scoring 40 or more points in their first five games.
The offense took a hit when leading receiver Michael Bennett was lost with a right knee injury early in October. Murray still has a deep group of receivers, especially with Malcolm Mitchell becoming more comfortable in his return to offense after opening the season at cornerback.
Mitchell had five catches for 74 yards, including Murray’s only touchdown pass, against Florida.
Freshman tailback Todd Gurley, who ran for 118 yards and a touchdown against Florida, is on pace to top 1,000 yards.
“Once we get our passing back on track like it was at the start of the season, and have him running the way he does, I expect we’ll hit on all cylinders and have those 40 and 50-point games like we did at the start of the season,” Murray said.
Keith Marshall, another freshman, is the other half of the “Gurshall” duo.
MURRAY CLOSING IN UNITAS AWARD:
ATHENS — Georgia junior quarterback Aaron Murray was named one of 10 finalists for the 2012 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
Murray, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound native of Tampa, Fla., is one of three players from the SEC selected as a finalist. He has already been named one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, which is given to the nation’s best college quarterback.
In his 23 wins as a starter, Murray has 56 touchdown pass to just 15 interceptions. He is the SEC’s leading active player in total offensive yards (8,513), completions (589), touchdown responsibility (86, which is tied for sixth in SEC history with Eli Manning), TD passes (76, which is ninth in SEC history) and passing yards (8,262).
He tossed his school record 76th touchdown pass of his career to lead the Bulldogs to a 17-9 upset of No. 3 Florida last Saturday.
The 2012 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award will be presented on Dec. 7 in Baltimore, Md.
Past winners include Peyton Manning (Tennessee, 1997), Carson Palmer (USC, 2002), Eli Manning (Ole Miss, 2003), Brady Quinn (Notre Dame, 2006), Matt Ryan (Boston College, 2007), Colt McCoy (Texas, 2009), and most recently Andrew Luck (Stanford, 2011).