Georgia QB Aaron Murray set a school record with 3,898 yards passing this season.
ATHENS — Georgia’s Aaron Murray is friends with Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, and the two quarterbacks occasionally will exchange some playful trash talk via text message. And when Murray is around town, fans tell him, “Y’all better be ready for Clemson.”
But when the Georgia football team is meeting, or players are hanging around each other or reporters, there’s a word that doesn’t come up that often: Clemson.
“We haven’t really talked about it too much,” Murray said.
“We’re not gonna use that to get us hyped,” linebacker Amarlo Herrera said.
And senior defensive end Garrison Smith sounded almost surprised when asked.
“We haven’t really talked about them,” he said. “We’re just focusing on our team, trying to get our team better.”
It’s not a matter of disrespect. Georgia players know the season opener Aug. 31 at Clemson, a potential fellow top 10-preseason team, will be a huge challenge. There seems to be high respect for the Tigers.
But recent history has taught the Bulldogs not to put too much stock in a highly anticipated season opener.
The 2010-11 offseason was in large part framed by the opening opponent. Georgia agreed to play Boise State for a number of reasons, but principal was the desire to get the Bulldogs back on the map.
The feeling was a good performance, and a win, would reinstate the program among the national elite.
It also served as the chief offseason motivation.
Head coach Mark Richt said during the 2011 offseason that “part of getting everyone’s attention was just knowing who we’re playing in game one.”
Then-senior center Ben Jones said the anticipation of playing Boise State “makes the whole spring and summer go by so much faster, because you’re looking forward to that game so much.”
The Bulldogs lost in resounding fashion.
But two years later they seem to have overcome it to get back to that elite status, having come five yards short of being in the national title game.
And along the way they’ve seen that one game doesn’t make a season. Not the past two seasons, anyway.
“We learned that two years in a row,” linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “We lost to South Carolina both years, and we still made it to the SEC championship. I don’t think you can base your season on one game, besides the SEC championship — which will get you to the national championship.”
Richt has said that the team just wasn’t emotionally ready for the Boise State game, which Georgia lost 35-21. The team was too hyped leading up to it, which proved to be the wrong mindset.
The memory of that seems to have infused the approach this offseason to a similar opener in 2013.
“We weren’t prepared for that game,” said receiver Chris Conley, who was a freshman that year. “We went in emotionally charged and not as focused as we would have been without all of that emotional excess. I think over the past years we’ve learned what it is to win, and what it feels like, and what it takes to prepare for those types of matchups. And to play under the spotlight. I think it alters the way we prepare for this game — aside from the coaches, just us as players, the way that we prepare for that in the locker room.”
Murray thinks that as the season gets closer, there will be more “buzz” about Clemson.
In the meantime, however, there has been too much focus on winning starting jobs — particularly on defense — to obsess over the first opponent.
Georgia is also in a different place than it was two years ago: Back then it was coming off a 6-7 season and there was “a sense of urgency” — as Smith put it — to show the previous season was an aberration.
Two years later, Georgia is coming off two straight SEC East titles and a 12-win season and has played in several big games.
So while the Bulldogs know their first game will be a big one, there isn’t much novelty attached to it.
“I’m not gonna use it as, ‘Oh we’ve gotta glorify Clemson and do all that,’ ” Herrera said. “No. I think we should just go out and work hard each day and by the time the day comes we should be — we’re gonna be — prepared as we need to be.”