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November 28, 2012

Big test for Murray

TUSCALOOSA | It's little wonder Aaron Murray isn't talking to the media this week. The University of Georgia quarterback opted out of interviews to focus on Saturday's Southeastern Conference Championship Game against Alabama.

So why the silence?

Murray is looking to play the kind of game he almost always plays, but against the kind of team he almost never beats. A less-than-stellar history of big-game performances is about the only criticism of Murray that has seemed to stick to the Bulldogs junior.

Murray in big games
vs. Florida (2-1)
Year C-A-I Yards Touchdowns
2012 12-24-3 150 1
2011 15-34-1 169 2
2010 18-37-3 313 3
vs. USC (0-3)
Year C-A-I Yards Touchdowns
2012 11-31-1 109 0
2011 19-29-1 248 4
2010 14-21-0 192 0
SEC Title vs. LSU (0-1)
Year C-A-I Yards Touchdowns
2011 16-40-2 163 1
Bowls (0-2)
Year C-A-I Yards Touchdowns
2011 Outback 20-32-2 288 2
2010 Liberty 21-38-2 198 0
Total in big games (2-7)
C-A-I Yards Touchdowns
146-286-15 1830 13
Nevertheless, the Crimson Tide has shown nothing but respect for Murray this week.

"I think Aaron's played extremely well. He's very accurate. He knows exactly what he wants to do with the ball, he's smart," said UA coach Nick Saban. "When you play quarterback you've got to process information quickly and get the ball out of your hand to the right guy. He's done that very consistently all year long."

For all that goes with being one of the SEC's most experienced and prolific passers, there is plenty of room for more skins on the wall for the Bulldogs' third-year starter.

Against SEC East rival South Carolina, Murray is 0-3 in his career. He is 0-2 in bowl games, and 0-1 in the SEC title game. And although he is 2-1 in his career against UGA archrival Florida, he hasn't exactly shredded the Gators personally. In what was perhaps the biggest win of his career, the 17-9 win over Florida in October that put Georgia in Saturday's game, Murray's performance was dismal at best: 12 of 24, 150 yards, three interceptions.

Still, Murray's overall numbers are among the most impressive in the nation.

He has completed 213 of 320 passes for 3,201 yards, 30 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. That gives him a pass efficiency rating of 177.1, the best rating in the entire NCAA, and just a shade better than UA's AJ McCarron, who ranks No. 2 at 176.2.

For Murray, however, statistics aren't enough. Alabama would represent the biggest helmet Murray has placed on a stick yet. And the Crimson Tide defense is bracing for his best effort.

"He's a competitor and he can make plays. I think it's just that simple," said safety Robert Lester. "He has a great core of talent around him that he can distribute the ball to and they're eager to make plays and they're capable of making big plays."

Linebacker Nico Johnson said pressuring Murray, something South Carolina did relentlessly in UGA's only loss of the season, will be crucial.

"It's going to be very important. If we let him sit back in the pocket, he can hurt you. It has shown all year," Johnson said. "We're going to have to make him less comfortable in the pocket. That's one of our goals going into every game."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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