We've seen this show before mind you, but the players on both sides of the ball have changed. We all know about how Nebraska is different, but how are the Bulldogs this year?
For that, I reached out to MaconDawg, the HMIC over at Dawg Sports, the SBNation Georgia sports community. He did a fantastic job as always, and we thank him for his help.
1. Well well well, here we are again on New Years Day huh? Interesting years for both teams, but in the same aspect disappointing to a point. Can you sum up the Bulldog season in a nutshell for us?
Injuries. In a house. With a mouse. In a tenement. To a ligament. We do not like blown ACLs and strained hammies. We do not like them, Sam I...(contracts new strain of Ebola, listed as "questionable").
In all seriousness, the Bulldogs lost every preseason skill position starter for multiple games at some point this season. Our top receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, blew out his ACL while celebrating a touchdown in the first half of the first game of the season. By one point late in the year, we were down to our third, fifth and seventh wide receivers, and actually played as many as four walkons at the position. The fact that Aaron Murray still passed for over 3000 yards means that either he, Mike Bobo, or receivers coach Tony Ball should be considered by the Vatican for sainthood. Because that is a miracle.
And that is to say nothing of the loss of Todd Gurley for substantial portions of the year, seller starter Keith Marshall to an ACL for the majority of the year, which left Georgia starting two true freshman at tailback for large portions of the season.
There were also injuries on a very young defense which helped to significantly retard its development. All in all, Georgia had its worst injury luck perhaps in my lifetime, yet still managed to finish 8-4. Included in that total were a three-point loss to Clemson, a single digit road loss against Vanderbilt with the worst officiating most Bulldog fans have ever seen, and a one point Auburn loss which could be explained only by Gus Malzahn making a deal with Satan.
I think I speak for most Bulldog fans when I say I'm proud of the team for accomplishing what they did, and incredibly glad that this hellhound-trailed season is almost over.
2. With the injury to Aaron Murray, UGA fans have taken a glimpse at the future in Hutson Mason. Even with a small sample size, he seems to be the real deal. What similarities does Mason have to Murray, and what are their differences?
Aaron Murray certainly the more mobile of the two, and has an NFL-class arm. And there's just no substitute for having a four year starting, fifth year senior field general out there.
That being said, as you point out the early returns on Hutson Mason are promising. He's completed close to 65% of his passes in 3 games of significant playing time this season, and has looked more comfortable than a lot of us expected him to. Part of that is that while the guy doesn't have a lot of live fire experience, he is a redshirt junior with four years in Mike Bobo's offense.
Mason comes from a Tony Franklin-ish high school offense, and came to Athens accustomed to working without a huddle and from the shotgun. Coach Bobo hasn't shied away from the fact that Mason's ascendance likely means a faster Bulldog offense.
I would add that because he's been so great with the timing and accuracy of the screen game, you can expect to see more screen passes than when Murray was at the helm.
3. Speaking of injuries, holy crap has this offense lost a lot of players! Murray, Todd Gurley, Malcolm Mitchell, Keith Marshall... How have Mark Richt and Mike Bobo kept this side of the ball together?
That's a mystery for the ages. Given the injuries all over the place it's amazing that Georgia still placed fourth in the SEC in total offense.
Part of the reason for the success was Murray. He was magnificent this season, completing 65% of passes and sporting a near 3:1 TD/INT ratio. Also of note, Murray averaged 3.5 yards per rushing attempt and had 7 touchdowns on the ground. That's a lot of production from one guy.
And when Todd Gurley was in he was very effective. He accounted for nearly 200 yards of total offense against Florida despite being obviously less than 100%, and single-handedly took over the Georgia Tech game.
But the real credit has to go to the coaching staff and the offensive line. Running backs coach Bryan McClendon got excellent production out of the true freshmen and walk ons he had to work with when Gurley and Marshall went down. Receivers coach Tony Ball also got the most out of several guys who no one expected to play significant snaps.
And while they weren't always consistent (and struggled horribly with good pass rushers), the offensive line generally came up with just enough when it was needed. The best examples of this came when they led time-sapping fourth quarter drives to lock up victories against South Carolina and Florida.
4. Speaking of Gurley... because of injury, his rushing totals are down, but he is still averaging 6 yards a carry. Also, his receiving numbers have gotten better. How is he a better back from last season?
It's really a shame that Gurley suffered one of the most fickle of injuries, the always annoying high ankle sprain. Because he came into this season in great shape. Gurley had gotten close to 230 pounds without losing a step, and now really looks like a man among boys.
As you note, he has really shown what a receiving threat he can be, and I suppose that's the biggest difference I've seen from 2012. Getting a guy that big and fast out in space with the ball in his hands is almost unfair, as the Florida defense learned on the second play of this highlight reel: