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Georgia's Murray answers critics with superb outing against Gamecocks

Aaron Murray is fired up after taking care of business against South Carolina. (USATSI)
Aaron Murray is fired up after taking care of business against South Carolina. (USATSI)

ATHENS, Ga. -- On Friday night at the Georgia team hotel, tight end Arthur Lynch looked his roommate, quarterback Aaron Murray, and delivered a simple but stern message.

"I just told him that statistically, he is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game," Lynch said. "I told him it was time for him to just go out and play and have fun. People had beat up on him enough."

And have fun Aaron Murray did on Saturday night. He threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns and played one of his most complete games in a Georgia uniform as the Bulldogs (1-1) knocked off No. 6 South Carolina 41-30 before 92,746 who rocked Sanford Stadium from beginning to end.

"I think he played the game of his life," said wide receiver Michael Bennett, who had three catches for 46 yards. "Given what was at stake and the criticism he was under Aaron was just about flawless. He did what he had to do for us to win."

What was at stake for Georgia was avoiding an 0-2 start for the second time since 2011. What was at stake was avoiding its fourth straight loss to Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks. Georgia had lost to South Carolina each of the past two seasons but still found a way to make it to the SEC Championship Game. That was unlikely to happen this season because LSU, from the SEC's rugged West Division, has rotated off the South Carolina schedule and on to Georgia's.

In short, a team that started No. 5 in the preseason and lost a 38-35 heartbreaker to Clemson last week, pretty much had its entire season on the line Saturday.

"It's tough to have all of your goals up in the air the second week of the season," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "It is no fun to be 0-2. It was just a fantastic game. I am really proud of everybody."

After committing two crucial turnovers at Clemson, Murray, the only quarterback in SEC history to pass for over 3,000 yards in three straight seasons, was again being a saddled with the "can't win the big one" tag. It had come up after the 32-28 loss to No. 2 Alabama in the SEC title game last December. Then it was raised again after Clemson despite the fact that Georgia's offense rolled up 545 total yards against the Tigers.

Well, this was a big one. And Murray played a big part in winning it as he completed 17 of 23 passes and had at least two drops.

Richt never bought the notion and he and Murray somehow couldn't win the big one after the loss to Alabama or Clemson, so he wasn't about to claim that Saturday night changed the narrative.

"When we were losing we were losing as a team. It wasn't Murray and Coach Richt," Richt said. "Tonight we won and he played well and I'm proud of him. He was pretty much on the mark all night."

When the game was over, Murray raced to one end of the stadium to see his parents and then he came back to the Georgia student section, where he reached over the famous hedge to high five the fans. In the locker room he also refused to buy into the idea that this evening gave him a big dose of vindication.

"Our backs were to the wall and we won the game as a team," Murray said. "I'm so proud of how we hung together. Nobody panicked. We've been in some tough situations before. We knew if we came out and executed our game plan we would be OK. Everybody made a contribution tonight."

On a night where Murray made a bunch of plays, two really stuck out.

With the score tied at 24 at halftime, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw lost a fumble at the Georgia 34-yard line. Murray led Georgia on a 55-yard drive that ended on a Patrick Beless field goal.

Then Murray drove Georgia back to the South Carolina 8-yard line. On third down Murray saw running back Todd Gurley covered in the end zone and waved him into the back corner. Then he threw a perfect strike for the touchdown, giving Georgia a 34-24 lead.

"We don't really have that route, but Aaron knew where the opening was and just waved at me the go there," said Gurley, who added a career-high 30 carries for 132 yards. "He threw it perfectly."

South Carolina scored a touchdown and missed the extra point with 13:55 left. Then Murray faced a third and 13 at his own 15-yard line. If Georgia doesn't convert, South Carolina gets the ball and a chance to take the lead.

"We had a penalty on the play before and that was kind of lucky for us," Murray said. "Coach Richt changed the play we had called to something that wasn't even in the game plan. I was surprised when he called it."

With All-American end Jadeveon Clowney crashing from the left side, Murray deftly rolled away from the pressure. He spotted sophomore receiver Justin Scott-Wesley behind the South Carolina safety for an 85-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.

"We did a good job riding the big guy [Clowney] out of the play and Justin went right where he was supposed to go," Murray said. "All I had to do was get him the ball."

Georgia would need one more big play and this one came from the defense. South Carolina drove 72 yards down to the Georgia 1-yard line. On fourth down, even with over nine minutes left, there was never any doubt that Spurrier was going for the touchdown. The option pitch from Shaw to Mike Davis had been working all night. But this time the Georgia defense stuffed it and took possession.

"We gave up some yards but when we needed to make the play we made it," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "We're getting better."

Georgia closed out the game by moving from its own 1-yard line and running out the final 8:28 without giving the ball back to South Carolina.

Spurrier didn't try to sugarcoat what happened.

"It was pretty obvious that Georgia was the stronger of the two teams out there today," said Spurrier, whose record against the Bulldogs is now 14-5. "They kicked our tails up and down the field. We couldn't stop them and they made a bunch of third-down conversions. It was a good tail kicking and I have to give Georgia credit."

Clowney, who began this season with hopes of going to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremonies, had his second subpar game with only one sack.

"We had a good plan for him and executed it pretty well," said Richt with a smile. "I still think he's one of the best players in the universe."

Georgia now gets a week off before taking on North Texas State. Then LSU comes to Athens, giving the Bulldogs their third top-10 opponent before the end of September.

"You can't relax because there is always another big game," said Murray, who is now 805 yards shy of the SEC's all-time record for passing yardage, held by Georgia's David Greene (11,528 yards). "But we're going to enjoy this one. This was a big win for us."

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