ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — The stats are similar to a year ago.
That's just fine with Aaron Murray.
The only numbers the Georgia quarterback cares about are wins and losses.
At this point in 2010, the Bulldogs were hobbling along at 1-4. The team never really recovered from the poor start, finishing with its first losing record since 1996 even though Murray put up some lofty numbers for a redshirt freshman.
This season, Georgia (3-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) has bounced back from another sluggish start with three straight wins. More important, the Bulldogs are right in the thick of the SEC East race, tied for first with Florida and South Carolina.
As long as his team keeps winning, Murray will be content putting up numbers that are similar to last year, even if that leads some to question whether his progress has stalled as a sophomore.
"We're winning more, so that's definitely better than it was last year," he said.
From one season to the next, Murray's numbers are eerily similar through five games. He's thrown three more passes. He's completed three more. He's passed for exactly the same amount of yards (1,100). His touchdowns are up (from eight to 13), but it's a bit troubling that his interceptions have gone up significantly, too, doubling from three to six.
In fact, Murray isn't too far away from the eight picks he had all of last year.
"There's definitely been a couple of throws here and there I wish I could take back," he said. "But I think my maturity level — understanding defenses and the playbook — has definitely increased since last year. As a quarterback, I'm definitely better. I just need to clean up a couple of things here and there."
Coach Mark Richt said a leaky offensive line had caused some of Murray's problems. Georgia already has given up 13 sacks, and the quarterback has been hit plenty of times after rushing to get the ball off.
"We need to protect the passer better," Richt said. "Aaron has made a lot of tremendous plays with people breathing down his neck. A lot of times, as soon as he releases the ball, he's getting hit right in the mouth."
It's not like teams are blitzing the Bulldogs relentlessly, either. Richt is most concerned about those plays when there's a blocker for every rusher, but someone still breaks through.
"We've had too many leaks in those type of situations," the coach said. "A lot of times Aaron has made tremendous throws with guys leaking through. If we clean that up, it will help Aaron overall — his accuracy, his percentage. He'll have more confidence to sit in there, make reads and get the throw off."
Murray is the unquestioned leader of the offense, and the Bulldogs are counting on him to provide a steadying influence Saturday when they face Tennessee (3-1, 0-1) in front of more than 100,000 fans at Neyland Stadium.
Georgia has been blown out on its last two trips to Knoxville. A solid performance by Murray could reverse that trend and keep the Bulldogs in the running for a division title.
He shredded the Volunteers a year ago in Athens, throwing two touchdown passes and running for two more scores — including a 35-yarder — in a 41-14 rout. Not surprisingly, Tennessee is fretting as much about Murray the runner as Murray the passer.
"He has a very strong and accurate arm, so he can make every throw on the field," Vols coach Derek Dooley said. "But what really scares you the most is if that's all you worry about, he can take off running. If you don't keep him in the pocket, he can blister you with his feet. He did it last year against us. He has done it in every game."
While he doesn't rate his performance based on personal numbers, Murray definitely isn't content standing still. He is constantly working on the little nuances of running an offense, the things that don't necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
Teammates rave about all the time he spends in the film room, hours after hours looking for defensive tendencies he can exploit, studying protection schemes, fine-tuning his ability at the line to switch to a play that has a better chance of succeeding.
"I don't want to stay the same," Murray said. "I don't want to say, 'Hey, I had a good freshman year and that's it.' I want to improve on my abilities. I want to guide this offense. I want to continue to improve. As one of the leaders of this offense, I need to keep working hard and wanting to get better and wanting this offense to get better.
"We haven't had all the games we've wanted to. But I think the potential is there. There's definitely flashes there where we look awesome."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
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