ATHENS — It was the great debut season that few expected. In a season of disappointment, it was one of the few things that went right. It was almost flawless, almost perfect.
And yet, according to Aaron Murray, it wasn’t that great.
“If I had to grade myself on my performance, I’d give myself a C at best,” the Georgia quarterback said.
Most other observers would give Murray an A-minus at worst: More than 3,000 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, only eight interceptions. Yes, the team struggled to a 6-7 record, but little of the blame lay with a freshman quarterback.
The question entering this season would seem to be whether it’s even possible for Murray to improve — especially with star receiver A.J. Green gone to the NFL, and questions all around him on offense.
But after spending the offseason watching film of every play from 2010 with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, Murray thinks there’s two grade levels of improvement to be made.
“If you all were able to go back and watch the film the way we watch the film and critique it the way I critique it and the way Coach Bobo critiques it, there were tons of plays last year where I left on the field,” Murray said. “I could’ve thrown a completion here or there, or thrown a touchdown here or there, or checked to a play here or there that I didn’t do. There are a lot of corrections to be made.”
That includes his accuracy, his footwork, even his knowledge of the Georgia playbook.
But still ... a ‘C’ grade after throwing for the second-most yards by a freshman in SEC history? After being named to numerous freshman All-America lists? After tying for the Georgia record for most touchdowns in one season?
“That’s what you get out of Aaron; he wants to be great,” said junior tight end Orson Charles, who was Murray’s high school teammate. “And that’s good, that’s the type of guy I want on my team, and I’m happy on my team. And if he thinks last year wasn’t good enough, I’m all behind him.”
“He’ll judge himself on wins and losses, rather than stats,” said sophomore Arthur Lynch, who is Murray’s roommate. “That’s what makes him such a great player.”
Murray said his performance last year shouldn’t have been surprising “when you look at the team I had around me.” Besides Green (even though he was suspended the first four games), there was also Kris Durham (a fourth-round pick), offensive lineman Clint Boling (another fourth-rounder) and Charles.
Then Murray added that he should have a similar season because of the talent around him this year, but that’s debatable. Charles is back, but the offensive line has been decimated by injuries, and the receivers and tailbacks are unproven.
“We need to take the pressure off of Aaron,” Charles said of the rest of the offense.
Head coach Mark Richt was asked this week how much Murray could really improve on last year. He thought a moment before offering up that “Aaron can improve,” then acknowledging that “24 TDs and eight picks, that’s pretty strong for any season for any guy.”
Richt anticipates that Murray will now have quicker recognition in the pocket. His accuracy may improve, and not just in terms of completion percentage, but hitting receivers in stride and setting them up for big plays.
Richt recalled a few deep balls where receivers — specifically Kris Durham — would catch it but be tackled right away.
“You’re thankful it’s a completion and it might be 50 yards or whatever. But if you hit him on the dead run he might go to the house,” Richt said. “There’s probably four or five that Durham had that might have gone to the house.”
There were also slant runs where Murray might be able to lead the receiver a bit more and complete a longer play.
“I think his accuracy will improve because his comfort level with what we’re doing,” Richt said. “He’s already improved in that everybody really believes in the guy. I think everyone wanted to believe in him last year and saw good signs to believe in. But now there’s no question in their mind that he’s the leader of the team.”
Murray’s worst performance came in the final game: Against Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl, he couldn’t lead the team to any touchdowns, was picked off twice and was held to 198 passing yards.
That was also the only time last year that Murray wore a glove, which drew plenty of outsized attention. Murray said he has no plans to wear one again, but he said he wouldn’t promise anything.
Bobo apparently doesn’t want Murray to don the gloves, either.
“He brought that up in the meeting (Thursday): ‘You are not wearing a glove,’ “ Murray said Thursday, laughing. “He was like, ‘I don’t care if you throw better with it or not, I don’t want to deal with the media about it.’ I was like, ‘All right Coach, I won’t wear a glove anymore.”