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Senior College Football Columnist

Murray still dogged by near miss as Georgia preps new run

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Sometimes the best hangover cure is another shot. Cannonball that sucker. Bloody Marys all around. Shotgun the Old Milwaukee. In the football sense, that's how Aaron Murray woke up the morning of December 2 -- needing a little hair of the (Bull)dog.

"The next day I came over and watched the film," said Georgia's quarterback recalling, painfully, the previous day's loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game. "I didn't want to, but I forced myself."

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Since then, Murray estimates he's seen the film 100 times -- the game film of Bama's thrilling (at least to some) 32-28 victory in that title game. That's 100 times experiencing that same result. That's 100 times trying to figure out what went wrong. That's 100 times going numb all over again.

"I beat myself up," he said.

"He's always done that," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He usually watches film the night of [a game]. Watches it here [at the football facility] before he meets his parents whether he's played good or bad."

What Murray learned is that the Dawgs did a lot right that day. They stood up to the defending national champs. They led by 11 in the third quarter. They blocked a field goal. The Bulldogs weren't bullied. Murray was going to be the quarterback that took down the mighty Tide.

Until he wasn't. The dream died with a tipped pass and the clock running out at the Alabama 5. It was all there, a back-shoulder fade to Malcolm Mitchell from the Alabama 8. Until it wasn't. Bama linebacker C.J. Moseley tipped the pass to one of the few places it couldn't/shouldn't land ...

... Into the hands of Chris Conley, who instinctively caught it at the Bama 5 as time ran out.

Forget that? Forget it. Within 5 yards of a title shot and Georgia's first SEC title in seven years. Within 5 yards of immortality.

"It took me, like, a month, month-and-a-half to stop thinking about it every night," Murray said. "I still think about it every once in a while. What could have been? It's a tough one to get over."

Let that tease be a metaphor for Murray's career at the moment. There is work left to be done by the rising fifth-year senior. Murray is about to become the Georgia and SEC career leading passer. But how do balance the agony of the past against the promise of the future?

How do you get past the day after the South Carolina game -- a 35-7 loss -- when Murray found his house egged and TP'd?

"That was kind of disturbing," said Murray, who has four roommates. "I woke up and got all these text messages about, 'Sorry about your house.'"

Never mind how disturbing it was that someone knew where he lived and took the time.

"That kind of creeped me out," Murray said.

Sometimes that's life in the SEC. Even in the middle of only the third 12-win season in Georgia history, there's not much room for perspective. But before the next game, though, there was a small victory in the household.

"We kind of figured out who it was," Murray said. "One of my roommates confronted him a little bit, scared him a little bit. It was made known: 'Don't get close to our house again.' We have some big boys in this house, so if they see you it's in your best interests to run the other way."

Murray loves his school and his status but he intentionally takes classes in the morning, "before the student body wakes up. I can, nice and easy, go to class and relax."

SEC Career Passing Yards
YardsPlayer, School (Years)
11,528David Greene, Georgia (2001-04)
11,213Chris Leak, Florida (2003-06)
11,201Peyton Manning, Tennessee (1994-97)
11,153Eric Zeier, Georgia (1991-94)
10,875Danny Wuerffel, Florida (1993-96)
10,354Jared Lorenzen, Kentucky (2000-03)
10,119Eli Manning, Ole Miss (2000-03)
10,091Aaron Murray, Georgia (2010-pre.)

And to all this Murray absolutely wants to return. Georgia is loaded on offense for '13. You add his return as a fourth-year starter to a unit that set a school scoring record, a top-five preseason ranking is practically a given. Heisman love is right around the corner after a season in which Murray fell four touchdown passes and 107 yards short of 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. That's the unabashed goal this season.

With less than 1,500 passing yards, Murray will become the SEC's career passing leader, moving up past the likes of Eli and Peyton Manning, Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel and two Bulldogs -- No. 1 David Greene and No. 4 Eric Zeier.

Also within reach are the SEC records for season passing yards (Tim Couch, 4,275), career touchdown passes (Wuerffel, 114), season passing touchdowns (Andre Woodson, 40) and career total offense (Tim Tebow, 12,232).

That's pretty much a sampler platter of SEC quarterback greats. Greats Murray is about to join.

"The thing he's always talked about when I was recruiting him was winning a championship," Bobo said. "He's never been a Heisman guy or an All-American. He wants to leave Georgia with a championship."

Karma says that it's Georgia's turn. The whispers about can't-win-the-big-one should be stowed for now. Coach Mark Richt was justifiably upset at questions on that subject after one of his team's gutsiest performances in years.

Let's look at Georgia as the next man up in this seven-year, four-team championship run by the SEC. Let's consider karma that allowed Murray to rejoin the party. Although, he applied for a draft evaluation, the grade came back early third round.

"With my height [6-foot-1], it's not like I'm not going to be able to move up very much," he said.

Karma? Maybe it was genetics. Murray does get upset at the height rap. He's been around the best quarterbacks in football working the Manning and Elite 11 camps. This spring he intends to fly to California to be tutored by quarterback guru George Whitfield.

"These offensive linemen nowadays are 6-6, 6-7," Murray said. "There is no quarterback that's that tall. I have never had a problem. I've never had to look over anyone. You create space and naturally move up in the pocket."

The support group is too comfortable to leave at the moment. He and his buds are in the process of making a trick shot video much like Johnny Manziel's. And before you compare a two-minute drill against Alabama to throwing a football into a trash can from the top of Sanford Stadium, this was for fun.

"It took about 40 [balls]," Murray said, but he hit the trash can.

It's more like a cocoon for Murray right now at Georgia. Bobo makes it four former Bulldog quarterbacks with whom Murray stays in touch. He stays in regular contact with Greene, Zeier and D.J. Shockley. That represents more than 32,000 career passing yards at Georgia -- and a whole lot of texts.

"I had a lot more bad in my career than he had," Bobo said. "We all go through it playing quarterback at this level, the expectations that are going to be on you. I tell him, 'I'm your coach. Not all these guys who think they know everything, even your parents or a [former] coach, or media.'"

So the kid who couldn't stop beating himself up, rallied. Murray threw five touchdowns against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. He graduated last spring. You spend a little time with him and, yeah, he could achieve that goal of doing some TV work. Good-looking, articulate, outgoing.

Unfulfilled too. Determined never to chase those hangovers again.

"If I didn't come back," Murray said. "It would always be like, 'Hey, I wonder what the last year could have been like.' "


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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