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Georgia's Aaron Murray can be The Star.


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This isn't the first time Georgia Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt has been part of a team that had to go on the road to face a national championship contender piloted by a dominant, dual-threat quarterback.

In 1999, he was the offensive coordinator for the Florida State Seminoles in their Sugar Bowl/BCS Championship Game tilt against the Michael Vick-led Virginia Tech Hokies.

The Noles' defense had more than its share of difficulty in stopping Vick, but Richt was able to counter that with his dominant quarterback/wide receiver tandem of Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick. Those two accounted for five touchdowns that were central to Florida State's victory in a 46-29 shootout.

That formula for success could be the blueprint for a Bulldogs' victory over the Auburn Tigers on Saturday.

Georgia wideout A.J. Green could play the role of Warrick and, believe it or not, Bulldogs redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray has more than a bit of a chance to mimic Weinke by outdueling Tigers quarterback Cameron Newton.

Don't believe that could happen? I was of the same mindset until completing a review of the game tape and metrics for Murray both on his own and in a head-to-head comparison with Newton. It turns out there is ample evidence to believe he is capable of keeping up with the Heisman Trophy front-runner on a pass-for-pass basis.

For starters, his passing statistics when facing common Southeastern Conference foes (the Arkansas Razorbacks, Kentucky Wildcats, Mississippi State Bulldogs and South Carolina Gamecocks) are very comparable to Newton's. Murray completed 56 of 91 passes for 832 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against those teams. That equates to a 143.39 passer rating.

That contrasts well to Newton's 50 completions in 75 passes for 644 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, a tally that rings up a 155.46 passer rating.

Their numbers are even closer when all of their SEC contests are reviewed. Murray has a 152.73 passer rating in conference games, which is almost identical to Newton's 153.03 passer rating versus the SEC.

As impressive as Murray's totals are at a glance, there are three areas that look even better upon closer inspection.

The first of these is Murray's bad decision rate (a bad decision being defined as when a quarterback makes a mistake with the ball that leads either to a turnover or a near turnover, such as a dropped interception). In the five games against the Bulldogs' toughest SEC opponents (South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Florida), he had only three bad decisions in 128 dropbacks.

Divide those together and it equals a bad decision rate of 2.3 percent. That would be a quality figure for even an NFL quarterback, but it is more notable here because it wasn't tallied in a dink-and-dunk offense. Proof of this can be found in the 55 vertical passes Murray threw in these games (a vertical pass being an aerial that is thrown 11 or more yards downfield).

That means 43 percent of his attempts were chucked long distances. Most offenses devote somewhere between 30-40 percent of their throws to the vertical route depths, and yet Richt has allowed his first-year starter to top that mark in these contests in large part because he knows Murray won't force passes into coverage.

Another reason Richt lets his quarterback stretch the field is his phenomenal numbers on bomb routes (defined as aerials thrown 30 or more yards downfield). Murray completed 7 out of 16 bomb passes for 325 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against the best SEC teams Georgia has faced this year. That equates to a ridiculously high 20.3 yards per bomb pass attempt.

Now factor those numbers in with the fact that Auburn has allowed 92 pass plays of 10 or more yards this season, which is the 17th highest total in that category in FBS. Add in the 16 touchdown passes the Tigers have allowed (the highest total in the SEC) and it shows just how many problems Auburn has experienced in keeping opposing pass offenses in check.

The biggest caveat to all of this is if the Tigers can turn this into a ground-based game. That would certainly bode well for Newton, the 10th leading rusher in FBS on a yards per game basis, but the stats lean against that occurring. Both teams rank in the top 20 in rush yards allowed per game and in the top 26 in rush yards allowed per attempt. Richt won't bang his offense's head against that wall and if he and Murray have any success through the air, Gene Chizik and Newton will have to mimic them.

If that happens, it could lead to a perfect ending to a very rough season for the Bulldogs.

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