ATHENS — Aaron Murray was supposed to be the big unknown for Georgia.
Instead, the freshman quarterback has emerged as a constant.
Georgia has relied on Murray while making changes at running back, receiver and on the offensive line in a disappointing first half of the season.
Murray is making his mark in the year of the experienced quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. The league’s top 10 list of passing leaders is filled with juniors, seniors and Murray, the lone underclassman.
Murray ranks third in the SEC with his average of 227.7 yards passing per game. He is fifth in pass efficiency rating.
Georgia, 2-4 overall and 1-3 in the Southeastern Conference, will face Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Murray said the only numbers that matter are Georgia’s wins and losses.
“I could be 12th and if we were undefeated I’d be a lot happier than I am right now being 2-4 and third in passing,” he said. “All that matters is that won-loss column.”
Murray has completed 97 of 157 passes for 1,366 yards. He has 10 TD passes with only three interceptions.
“He’s growing,” Richt said, adding the freshman “made good decisions” and “made very few mental errors” against Tennessee.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been Murray’s contributions as a runner. He leads the team with four TD runs, including runs of 35 and 5 yards in last week’s 41-14 win over Tennessee.
Murray also passed for two touchdowns with no interceptions against the Vols.
“I think he’s the complete package,” said Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell. “He’s got a good command of the offense. He can throw the football. He sees the big picture of what they’re trying to do, and that’s important for a quarterback.”
Murray has provided steady play as Georgia has endured chaos at other positions.
Top receiver A.J. Green was suspended by the NCAA for the first four games.
Tailback Washaun Ealey, the team’s leading rusher, was suspended for one game. Caleb King, the second-leading rusher, has been suspended by coach Mark Richt for two games following his arrest this week for failing to address a speeding ticket.
With King out and backup Carlton Thomas slowed by a hamstring injury, freshman tailback Ken Malcome could make his debut behind Ealey this week. Richt said fullback Fred Munzenmaier also will play at tailback.
There also has been turnover on the offensive line. Freshman guard Kenarious Gates and junior left tackle Trinton Sturdivant made their first starts of the season last week.
Senior receiver Kris Durham said Murray has never been bashful on the field.
“Aaron prepares extremely well and plays with heart,” Durham said. “I have full confidence in him and the coaches have full confidence in him. He does everything you could ask for and more. He gets up there and makes plays to win the game.
He never sits back and plays not to make a mistake. He plays to win.”
Freshman Hutson Mason played as a backup in one game, completing 2 of 5 passes for 33 yards and a touchdown in the opening win against Louisiana-Lafayette. The rest of the snaps have been Murray’s.
Murray said he is making decisions more quickly as he gains experience and is better able to recognize defenses.
“The more I play the better I am at it and I can understand what defenses are giving me,” Murray said. “I can go to my No. 1 receiver, go to my No. 2, go to my checkdown and if it’s covered get out of there and run. I was able to progress a little faster this past weekend. I hope I can continue to speed up my progressions.”
Murray said Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo “are trusting me a little bit more to use my legs.
“They still preach to me just to be smart and be sure you protect the football,” he said.