Joe Medley: Will the real Aaron Murray please stand up
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Dec 01, 2012 | 5543 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Quarterback Aaron Murray and the Georgia Bulldogs take on Alabama today for the SEC title. (John Amis/Associated Press)
Quarterback Aaron Murray and the Georgia Bulldogs take on Alabama today for the SEC title. (John Amis/Associated Press)
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ATLANTA — Today’s SEC Championship and de facto national semifinal between Alabama and Georgia comes down to two questions.

Which Aaron Murray will emerge from his self-imposed, media-free week of quiet film study, and can No. 2 Alabama’s top-ranked defense make the Georgia quarterback wish he was still sequestered?

If Alabama can induce Big Game Aaron today in the Georgia Dome, then Alabama will likely earn another big game, against No. 1 Notre Dame for the Bowl Championship Series title.

If Not-So-Big-Game Aaron emerges in all of his efficient glory in the biggest game of his college career, then he can shake his rap for big-game flops and put No. 3 Georgia in position for a national title.

There’ll be lots of other watch-worthy games within the game, like whether Georgia sack specialist Jarvis Jones can affect Alabama’s AJ McCarron like Alabama’s defense hopes to affect Murray.

Each quarterback hopes to strike balance. Alabama running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall hope to make the day easier for their quarterbacks.

But Alabama’s defense struggled against the best quarterbacks it faced, giving up big plays and drives in a loss to Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M and near-loss to Zach Mettenberger-led LSU.

One can bet that most of Murray’s quiet film study this week has centered on those two games. He’s seen the issues Alabama’s secondary had, especially covering slot receivers.

Murray leads the nation in pass efficiency and has done a lot toward that cause recently, completing 73.2 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions over the past four games.

“You know, I think Aaron Murray is a really, really experienced, good decision maker, processes information quickly, gets the ball out of his hand quickly,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Friday. “A very good rhythm sort of quarterback, and they have a rhythm passing game in terms of how they do what they do.”

Good defenses disrupt rhythm, though, which might explain Murray’s big-game struggles.

His recent run of efficiency came against Ole Miss, Auburn, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech, but it took him five tries to get a victory over a top-10 team. Even in that victory over Florida, Murray threw three first-half interceptions, and Georgia won thanks largely to Florida’s six turnovers.

Florida and South Carolina are the only top-15 defenses Murray has faced this season. South Carolina dealt Georgia its only loss, 35-7.

In those two games, Murray was a combined 23-for-55 for 259 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions.

Murray’s big-game issues didn’t just surface this season. Against LSU in last year’s SEC Championship, he went 16-for-40 for 163 yards with one touchdown and two picks and suffered four sacks.

A year later, Murray is set to face the nation’s leader in total and scoring defense. Little wonder he tapped out of media availabilities this week and, by all accounts, gobbled up all the film he could watch.

If he watched the Texas A&M and LSU games, then he saw that Alabama’s secondary can be had by an accurate quarterback with time to throw, whether his time comes from protection or scrambling.

Even in Alabama’s 49-0 rout of Auburn, freshman Jonathan Wallace had his moments. On rare occasions when he had time, he found Emory Blake for chain-moving completions.

In most cases, Alabama had issues covering lining up in the slot.

Whether Murray and Georgia’s injury-depleted receiver corps can take advantage depends on whether Alabama can disrupt their rhythm.

It also depends on whether Murray can mentally conquer the whole big-game thing, and one wonders how to interpret the normally accessible junior asking out of the week’s media availabilities. Is he too psyched out? Will he be focused for this big game like no other?

We’ll all find out when we see which Aaron Murray emerges today at 3 p.m. today in the Georgia Dome, and whether Alabama’s defense solves the issues that emerged in its two worst games this season.

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.