ATHENS — Freshman quarterback Aaron Murray will need to check his emotions before Georgia’s opener Saturday.
Here’s his plan: Slow country music on the headphones. Maybe add in a few quiet jam songs, but nothing over-the-top before he goes on the field.
“I get extremely pumped up,” Murray said. “It’d be a great thing if I was on defense and I was trying to take someone’s head off, but offensive-wise, you want to be a little more mellow.”
Murray knows his eager tendencies will hardly serve the No. 23 Bulldogs well. Louisiana-Lafayette might seem like a pushover to most Georgia fans, but Murray hasn’t taken a snap in a game since helping Plant High School of Tampa, Fla., win a 2008 state title.
The Bulldogs and Ragin’ Cajuns kick off at 12:21 p.m. as Sanford Stadium hosts its 58th consecutive sellout under coach Mark Richt.
For Murray to succeed, he likely will need to get the ball out of the pocket quickly and avoid contact. After Zach Mettenberger behaved his way off the team in April, Murray moved to No. 1 at a position that has a true freshman, Hutson Mason, listed No. 2 and a quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-swingman in Logan Gray at No. 3.
Depth is a major concern, but Mettenberger’s dismissal forced Murray to mature quickly.
“It made me step up and take that leadership role,” Murray said. “Logan had moved to receiver. Zach was gone. The young guys hadn’t come in yet. I was really the only guy. It was my job. I had to step up and make sure I was doing all the right things.”
Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will help Murray manage his first game by keeping the play-calling simple.
That plan worked well in 2001 when David Greene was a redshirt freshman quarterback with no college experience. Four years later, Greene left Georgia as the NCAA’s career leader in wins with 42.
“You are better off starting slow and repping him over and over and over with (a) smaller package,” Richt said. “And then hopefully he’ll have success and you can kind of grow as you go. That’s what I’ve learned and tried to help him understand.”
Murray has watched abundant film of Greene’s freshman season. Greene was a left-hander and tended to scramble to the left side when avoiding pressure. Murray will run the other way most likely, but he doesn’t resemble a hard-throwing gunslinger like Matthew Stafford, who left Georgia after his junior year to become the NFL’s No. 1 overall draft pick.
As Richt says, the temptation for inexperienced quarterbacks is to attempt a completion at all costs. Doing so often leads to mistakes.
Stafford’s unpredictability as a freshman often made Richt cringe. Like Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears, Stafford seemed to think his arm strength could fit a pass into any spot, regardless of tight coverage.
“Greene was really the only one who went through it unscathed, or close to unscathed” as a freshman, Richt said. “He was very disciplined in what he did. Stafford wanted to make plays. He was about doing great things. Guys with that kind of arm strength and that kind of ability can’t help themselves sometimes. If you look at Stafford, we struggled with him. At the end of (his freshman) year, when he quit turning it over, we won.”
It appears Murray has more football skills and athleticism than his predecessor, Joe Cox, who had the flu last year when Georgia lost at Oklahoma State and dropped to 8-1 in openers under Richt.
Cox was a senior and a decent leader, but he struggled at times to connect with All-SEC receiver A.J. Green and never benefited from a consistently strong running game.
Green is still one of the nation’s best threats, but starting tailback Washaun Ealey is suspended for the opener, which leaves Caleb King as the top option in the backfield.
Murray just wants to be even-keel emotionally.
“I wouldn’t say that I get nervous,” he said. “I would say that I get more juiced up. I get really excited, and I need to take that down a notch.”