Mitchell: Why Georgia Is 0-1
UGA's Aaron Murray
Spotty secondary and quarterback play, a suspension to its kicker, and a limping Todd Gurley all conspired just enough to send the Dawgs packing.
By Russ Mitchell
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Sigh. Aaron Murray is still good for two turnovers in every big game.
We had hoped Murray would pick up where he left of the 2012 season, finishing with two stellar games against Alabama and Nebraska. However, on the road, before a raucous Clemson crowd, Murray slipped back into a nasty habit that has dogged him throughout his career at Georgia.
Up 21-14 in the second quarter, Murray's fumble gave Clemson the ball at the Bulldogs' 16. Five plays later, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd tied it up. For those that argue this fumble was the result of poor pass blocking, you're wrong. Once again, under pressure Murray dropped his hands away from his body, exposing the football.
The interception came roughly three minutes later. Clemson's Sammy Watkins fumbled a punt deep in his own territory. On the very next play, Murray threw the ball to Clemson defensive end Corey Crawford on the 18 yard line.
Murray clearly wasn't helped when his number one receiver - Malcolm Mitchell - left in the first quarter with a knee injury. But that turnover swing inside the span of five minutes cost Georgia between 7 to 14 points.
Conversely, Georgia's secondary issues were evident throughout the game, and were manifested in Boyd's 270 yard, three touchdown, no interception night.
But this game was ultimately lost when star Georgia tailback Todd Gurley was forced to spend time sidelined nursing a first quarter quadriceps injury. Gurley had 154 yards on just 12 carries, while his backup, Keith Marshall, finished with 43 yards on 16 carries.
For the mathematically challenged, that's 2.7 yards per carry for Marshall, and 12.8 ypc for Gurley. A swing of 10 ypc.
Of course, perhaps head coach Mark Richt thought it more important to keep Gurley healthy for next week's conference game against South Carolina. Indeed, UGA can still make it to Pasadena by sweeping the SEC, combined with a Clemson loss.
For while losing to Clemson hurts your pride, losing to Carolina hurts your season.
This makes the Georgia touchdown with 1:19 left far more important than many realize. Falling in defeat to a top ten team on the road, by only three points, carries far more weight come December than losing by double digits.
Finally, there was the late suspension of Marshall Morgan, the only scholarship kicker on the Georgia roster. In our 2013 Georgia preview this July, we wrote "Watch Out For … the Morgan suspension drama. In what will likely be competitive contests against both Clemson and South Carolina, the kicking game just might be the difference between playing for a national championship in January, or another trip to Orlando for the Capital One Bowl."
The missed chip shot Saturday was really more the result of Nathan Theus' errant snap than anything to do with an actual kick – indeed, there was no kick. But one can't help wondering if Morgan's absence created more pressure on the unit.
Meanwhile, Clemson has now upset two top ten SEC squads in a row, and done so with a balanced attack.
At days end, Georgia was simply not as balanced as Clemson Saturday night. The Tigers had a star offensive player at each position – Boyd's three TDs with no INTs, Sammy Watkins' 127 yards on six receptions plus a touchdown, and Roderick McDowell's 132 yards on 22 carries. The Dawgs had Murray's one interception/no touchdown night, combined with their best receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, being lost to a knee injury when celebrating Gurley's 75 yard scoring run in the first quarter.
WHAT COMES NEXT
There were many elements Saturday that conspired to start the Dawgs off at 0-1. But as disappointing as this loss is, many of these issues can be resolved with time, and Georgia remains in good position...even to win a national title.
Still, Richt and Co. have lost control of their own fate, as they now need someone on Clemson's schedule to hand the Tigers a loss of their own. Even that might not be enough.
But first the Dawgs must concentrate on beating another top ten team, and conference opponent, in South Carolina next weekend. Fortunately for Georgia, that one is Between the Hedges.
Russ Mitchell is the Lead SEC Columnist for CFN and Campus Insiders. Follow him @russmitchellcfb