Mental blunder ruins epic SEC Championship Game
Published on Dec. 3, 2012, at 2:25 p.m. Eastern.
By Brian Edwards
I’ve always said the same things about Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. The dude is tough as nails and we learned that when he was a true freshman.
Murray led the Bulldogs into Jordan-Hare Stadium to face the eventual national champions and raced out to a double-digit lead in the first half. For three quarters, Murray was every bit as good as eventual Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
In the end, Auburn pulled away in the final stanza to beat Georgia. In the fourth quarter, Auburn’s Nick Fairley took several extremely dirty cheap shots at Murray. On each occasion, Murray popped up.
Nobody has questioned his toughness since then.
Murray has a strong and accurate arm. His career has undoubtedly been solid. But as I pointed out in my preview of Saturday’s epic SEC Championship Game, the story of Murray’s career would be told at the Ga. Dome against Alabama.
If Murray could lead his team to a victory over the Crimson Tide for a berth in the BCS Championship Game, nothing else would matter. That accomplishment would define his career at UGA.
In the biggest games of Murray’s career prior to Saturday, he had not performed at an elite level. The Murray we had seen against Florida, LSU, Boise St. and South Carolina had not been nearly the player we had watched excel against Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Tennessee and others of lesser ilk.
This was his moment to shine, to lead his team.
To be clear, Murray played well for the most part against Alabama. So did his teammates. Mark Richt had his team ready to play in a game for the ages.
And that’s why it’s so damn mind-boggling that such a historic contest was decided by such an epic mental blunder. In the wake of Saturday’s nail-biter, most media members have praised both teams and lauded UGA for its game effort.
But there’s a reason why Georgia’s record is now 2-10 against Top 25 opponents during the three years Murray has been the starting quarterback. He has not produced in those crucial moments.
The most crucial came at crunch time against ‘Bama. UGA trailed 32-28 in the final minute and it was threatening to take the lead and destroy the Tide’s hopes of a third national title in four seasons.
With zero timeouts remaining in the final 30 seconds of a game, the only thought process for any quarterback, especially one like Murray who was making his 40th career start, would be to clock the ball with a spike following a first down. (For those not in the know, the clock temporarily stops to move the chains following a first-down gainer.)
This was the scenario for Georgia. From the Alabama 34-yard line with 22 ticks left, Murray found Arthur Lynch over the middle for a 26-yard gain to ‘Bama’s eight-yard line. The clock stopped with 15 seconds.
For some, this is a frantic moment. For veteran quarterbacks, there’s nothing to fret about because there’s only one option. You get your team on the ball and you spike it immediately.
If you do so, you’re left with 12-13 seconds and at least two plays to take shots at the end zone. When Lynch was tackled, the CBS cameras went to Murray, who was sprinting to the line of scrimmage but looking to the sidelines for direction.
My immediate reaction was, what the hell is Murray doing looking for advice at this moment? Why would there ever be a thought process other than spiking the ball?
As it turned out, the inexplicable advice from the sidelines was not to spike it but to run a play instead. Therefore, many choose to blame Richt and his staff for what happened next.
Because Georgia didn’t spike the ball, the next snap came after 4 or 5 precious seconds had ticked away. Murray’s pass, apparently intended to be a corner route into the end zone, was tipped at the line of scrimmage. The ball was caught by Chris Conley, who was tackled inbounds at the four.
Tick, tick, tick. Game over.
Richt can explain ‘the plan’ all he wants. He can say they work on that situation at practice every day all he wants. Obviously, they don’t work on it in the proper fashion.
Look, Murray is not an NFL player. He’s a student-athlete who doesn’t get paid. And like every UGA player and fan today, he is still heartbroken over Saturday’s outcome.
I’m not trying to kick dirt in the eyes of those that are wounded, but there’s a difference between a solid career and one that can be attached with greatness. Murray may get a chance to make amends during his senior season.
But Murray had his chance to lead at crunch time on Saturday. Instead, he looked for advice. A great leader would’ve known what to do and done it with authority.
If Murray had done so, UGA would’ve had at least two chances to score from eight yards away. And the guess here is this column would’ve still been about Murray, but it would have a much different tone.
Instead, we will never know how the 2012 SEC Championship Game should have ended.