COLUMBIA, Mo. • Time to take a closer look at Missouri’s opponent Saturday, the seventh-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0 SEC).
• We’ll get to the injuries and Georgia’s replacement plan shortly, but when you’re talking Georgia, you start with Aaron Murray, the fourth-year starting quarterback. Few would argue that Murray’s among the four or five elite quarterbacks in the country — and if they do, they’re not paying attention — but the senior from Tampa, Fla., is even better at home, nearly unbeatable in his career.
In games at Sanford Stadium, Murray is 20-2, with the only losses coming to South Carolina (2011) and Arkansas (2010). In those 22 home games, he’s thrown 63 touchdown passes to just 11 interceptions, five of which came during his sophomore season. Here’s Murray’s year-by-year home splits:
2013 … 3-0 record, 67.8 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns, 2 INTs, 203.0 rating, 338.3 passing yards per game
2012 … 7-0, 71.4 percent, 19 TDs, 2 INTs, 209.6 rating, 295.0 yards per game
2011 … 5-1, 65.3 percent, 19 TDs, 5 INTs, 168.8 rating, 203.3 yards per game
2010 … 5-1, 66.2 percent, 14 TDs, 2 INTs, 177.9 rating, 244.2 yards per game
Here’s where Murray stands among the SEC’s outstanding group of quarterbacks in key passing categories:
Passing yards per game: 306.8 (1st)
QB rating: 176.9 (3rd)
Completion percentage: 64.9 (7th)
Yards per attempt: 10.2 (3rd)
Touchdown passes: 14 (2nd)
A few more Murray splits: He’s more efficient on third down this season than he is overall, with his third-down rating at 183.6, also third in the SEC. Playing at home, he’s among the league’s top three quarterbacks in yards per game, rating, yards per attempt and passing TDs.
The only category where Murray slips to the middle of the pack is completion percentage. On third down, his percentage (57.9) is just eighth in the conference. At home, his mark (67.8) is just sixth.
Murray is the FBS active leader in three career statistics: touchdown passes (109), total offense yards (11,908) and touchdowns responsible for (121). Among all-time SEC quarterbacks, he became the career leader for passing yards last week and stands second only to Florida’s Tim Tebow for total offense and second to former Florida QB Danny Wuerffel for touchdown passes.
Should he stay on pace, Murray will become the third quarterback in NCAA history to throw for 3,000 yards in four seasons, joining Hawaii’s Timmy Chang (2000, 2002-04) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (2008-11).
• But what about the weapons around him. Only 10 receivers practiced for Georgia Tuesday, the Macon Telegraph’s Seth Emerson reported here. Five of those 10 are walk-ons. So who are the receivers Murray will have available this week:
Chris Conley, a 6-3 junior, leads UGA with 20 catches for 318 yards and three touchdowns. He was barely a factor in a Week 2 win over South Carolina but came up big against Clemson and LSU. Four of his catches have come on third down, for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Five of his catches have gained at least 25 yards and half his total, 10, have gone for at least 15. His 20 catches equals his 2012 total, when Conley had only two games with more than two catches.
Rhett McGowan, a 6-foot senior, is listed as UGA’s starting split end. He has 26 career receptions over four seasons, including just six for 58 yards this season. He’s never caught more than two passes in an SEC game.
Backup contributors include Rantavious Wooten, a 5-10 senior, has 42 career catches, including a career-best six in Saturday’s overtime win at Tennessee; Kenneth Towns, a 6-3 redshirt freshman walk-on who’s never caught a pass; Michael Erdman, a 5-10 junior walk-on who had two catches — in the G-Day Game (Georgia’s spring scrimmage), after which he earned the team’s Coffee County Hustle Award.
But the Bulldogs also have one of the SEC’s better tight ends in 6-5 senior Arthur Lynch, who has 11 catches for 169 yards and two scores. Both of his third-down catches this year moved the chains, as did all five of his third-down grabs last year, including three that went for touchdowns.
• Georgia returns just two starters on defense from last season: cornerback Damain Swain and nose tackle Garrison Smith, though linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Jordan Jenkins combined for 15 starts last year. Otherwise, the Bulldogs bid farewell to seven defenders who were selected in the NFL draft: outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (Steelers), inside linebacker Alec Ogletree (Rams), defensive tackle John Jenkins (Saints), safety Shawn Williams (Bengals), defensive back Sanders Commings (Chiefs), defensive end Cornelius Washington (Bears) and safety Baccari Rambo (Redskins). Defensive linemen Kwame Geathers (Chargers) and Abry Jones (Jaguars) also made rosters after going undrafted.
So, how’s the new-look Georgia defense playing? The stats aren’t pretty, but any analysis has to take into account a brutal early schedule that’s included games against Clemson, LSU and South Carolina. Still, Georgia’s giving up a league-worst 32.2 points per game. Only three teams from the five major conferences (SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12) are giving up more points per game: Purdue, Colorado and California.
Teams are averaging 8.1 yards per pass attempt against the Bulldogs. Only Kentucky is worse in the SEC … and among the other major conferences, only Illinois, Cal, Syracuse and Boston College give up more.
Opposing QBs are sporting a 147.6 rating against UGA’s defense. Only Kentucky and South Carolina are worse in the SEC.
The Bulldogs have given up 10 passing touchdowns and intercepted just one pass — tied with Kentucky for the fewest in the SEC. Only four other teams in the country have intercepted just one pass.
Georgia’s four quality opponents (Clemson, South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee) have completed 74 of 123 passes against the Bulldogs (60.2 percent) for 1,085 yards (8.8 per attempt) and nine touchdowns and zero interceptions, for a passer rating of 158.4.
The defensive stats get worse in certain situations: Georgia's defense has the SEC’s worst third-down conversion rate, with opponents converting 44.0 percent of their chances. Backed up inside the red zone, Georgia’s defense has yielded the SEC’s highest rate of touchdowns, 72.2 percent. Only Tennessee’s given up more 20-yard passes than Georgia’s 20. Opposing quarterbacks are posting a third-down QB rating of 166.0 against UGA, second-worst in the SEC.
• Perhaps the only thing worse that Georgia’s injury-riddled offense and scorched defense is its special teams play. Sample these conference rankings: kickoff returns (12th), kickoff coverage (14th), punt return average (12th), kickoffs (12th) and touchback percentage (11th). Oh, and the Bulldogs have had two blocked punts returned for touchdowns this season.
Georgia coach Mark Richt explained those issues on today’s SEC teleconference: “You look at the punt team. Obviously two blocked punts for touchdowns, that’s bad. That’s catastrophic, as you said. But if you pull those two out, which you can’t, but if you protect on those two and look at the body of work, the other 92 percent of the time or whatever it is, we’re one of the top five teams in America in net punt. There’ve been zero return yards against us. So, we’ve done a lot of really good things on that team.
"You can try to blow everything up and start over. Or you can find out what your issues are and correct them. We thought we had it corrected. Schematically, the first one was more of a scheme issue. The second one was more of an execution issue. We’ve got our scheme issues squared away. Now we’ve got to physically do it. That’s our approach. Our approach is to fix whatever’s broken. Does that mean you start from scratch? No. Does it mean you start firing everybody and start all over? No. It means we’ve got to do better at what we know is the right way to do it.”