Mississippi State’s head football coach saw Georgia’s starting quarterback as a high school freshman and thought then he would be a player he’d like to coach.
Saturday, he'll be in the position of trying to make sure Aaron Murray doesn’t hinder his chances of getting a home win.
After his freshman season at Plant Senior High School in Tampa, Fla., Murray was named the most valuable player at the University of Florida quarterback camp where current Gators offensive coordinator Dan Mullen was a prime instructor.
“Aaron is a very talented quarterback…I’ve known him for quite a long time,” Mullen said. “He’s been through two springs, two fall camps and now is playing so he’s a quality player.”
Not soon after, the Florida program made a scholarship offer to the nation’s third-best quarterback prospect in the 2009 class in the hope of getting him to stay in-state to play college football. Murray would eventually break the hearts of everyone in the Sunshine State by signing and enrolling early with the University of Georgia.
After going through this offseason where he was basically anointed the starter from the beginning, Murray’s results in Georgia’s pro-style offense have been a mixed bag as expected from such a young player. The redshirt freshman is currently averaging 200 yards per game through the air with four total touchdowns.
“I think that we just have to allow him to play ball and treat him more like a veteran," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "He's handled things pretty well, and I think he's prepared to run the system as we have it. I think we are ready to just let him play."
The problem for Murray this season has been the nine sacks the Georgia offensive line has allowed in the last two losses but Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo had cause to believe his young signal caller is hanging on to the ball too long.
“Sometimes he likes to hold onto the ball a little bit. That’s being young,” Bobo, a former UGA quarterback, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I have to look at the tape. I don’t think all of the sacks were on him, but he’s got to get rid of the football.”
This past offseason Mullen went looking for his quarterback for the future and thought he’d found him in Lassiter High School prospect Hudson Mason after he set the state passing record with 4,560 yards and 54 touchdowns while leading his team to a 13-1 record this past season, which helped generate a bevy of scholarship offers.
After Georgia initially told Mason they weren’t recruiting a quarterback in the 2010 class, Mississippi State was waiting with willing arms.
However, Mullen struck out again on another recruit once his home state school changed its mind after reshuffling their upcoming roster Mason told the country three days before Christmas that he would be competing to be Georgia’s backup job. After a solid spring and a consistent fall camp, Mason started the 2010 season behind Murray on the current depth chart.
In cleanup duty during Georgia’s season-opening blowout of Louisiana-Lafayette, Mason’s first action couldn’t have been any better as the true freshman threw 26-yard touchdown to former quarterback turned wide receiver Logan Gray. According to the NCAA record book, Mason is only the second quarterback in Division I Football Bowl Subdivision to throw a touchdown pass in his first career snap.
“When I was walking down the Dawg Walk, I was like, ‘Man this is what I’ve been waiting on for five years,’” Mason told the Macon Telegraph. “Those kids that are yelling out my name, that’s who I was about five years ago. Just to be sitting in this locker room, letting alone throwing a touchdown in my first college play, it’s kind of hard to grasp. It’s so mind-boggling.”
Mullen irritated at special teams mistake
It took him less than a minute to mention it during Saturday’s postgame comments.
And then he mentioned it again and again then one final time to drive the point home.
Mullen wanted to make perfectly clear Sean Brauchle wasn’t supposed to kick the ball out of bounds.
"I was feeling confident in myself to just pin it deep," Brauchle said. "We had the momentum going and I wanted to blast it to the end zone. I think I just I hung it up there way too high and it just carried like one foot out of bounds."
The key pivotal moment of this past weekend’s 29-7 loss at LSU was the play that took no time off the clock that followed the Bulldogs only score of the evening. MSU had the momentum and felt the silence of 92,538 fans wondering if their team would blow a first-half lead.
“You go on the road, hard environment, fall down, hold them to four field goals – bend but didn’t break,” Mullen said after the game. “Defense was keeping us in it (and) scored right away to open the second half.”
Mullen knew his team was close to potentially pulling off one of the biggest upsets of his short head-coaching career but what he didn’t realize is on the sidelines he’d be closer to receiving the kickoff than any of the 22 players on the field.
“Our kicker walks out on the field and kicks it straight out of bounds,” Mullen said. “Those are things that championship programs don’t do. When they seize momentum, they don’t just hand it over to the other team.”
LSU started that possession near midfield and eventually scored its first touchdown of the game making it a 12-point deficit. When asked if that Tigers drive that served as an instant answer and a game-changing moment of the game, Mullen’s quickly answered with a quip about how LSU got that field position in the first place.
“It certainly helped we kicked the ball out of bounds right there,’ said MSU’s second-year head coach. “To beat a great team, that can’t happen.”
Kickoff duty is something Mullen has been disappointed with each of the first three games this season but normally his gripe has been about Brauchle’s lack of depth and airtime on his full power kicks. The problem Saturday night on this particular assignment was an intended pop-up kick that was supposed to land on the 25-yard-line giving Mississippi State’s coverage team an opportunity to contain the Tigers return game.
“You practice it all week, practice it over and over, all preseason camp and it wasn’t even close,” Mullen said. “As soon as he hit it, it went out of bounds. That’s not performing when your number is called like a lot of guys.”