LINCOLN — The last time Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray played in Orlando's Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, he wasn't really supposed to be on the field.
It was the 2008 Florida Class 4A title game and Murray should have been rehabbing a broken leg. The injury, suffered eight weeks earlier, was originally considered a season-ender.
But as a senior, he didn't want to miss the chance at a championship. The week earlier, he'd returned to led his team to a win in the semifinals. Then he took the field in Orlando for the title shot.
“I couldn't move at all,” Murray said during a December teleconference. “I was pretty messed up. I think we had five different kinds of tape on it.”
Turned out that the injury had little impact on Murray. He threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns, leading Tampa Plant to a 34-14 win against Tallahassee Lincoln.
“I really didn't get hit too much,” Murray said.
Murray hopes his next appearance in the Citrus Bowl will be just as memorable. He's physically healthy this time, though the Bulldogs' mental state could still be a bit fragile when they face No. 23 Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl at noon Jan. 1.
No. 6 Georgia came within 5 yards of a national championship berth, but dropped the SEC title game 32-28 to No. 2 Alabama three weeks ago.
Murray says the team can move on, pointing to a 35-7 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 6 that presumably knocked the Bulldogs out of the SEC East race. They rebounded, though, and won their next six games.
Murray, a junior, was named the team's offensive MVP and a co-offensive captain earlier this month, finishing the season with 3,466 passing yards (15th nationally), 31 touchdown throws (11th) and a pass-efficiency rating of 172.4 (second).
“In every game this year, he just took control. Extremely poised,” said senior receiver Tavarres King, who averages a team-high 21.7 yards per catch. “I didn't see that nervous energy, that nervous look on his face. And that's exciting, when you see that calm, cool and collected guy.”
Murray didn't flinch when top receiver Michael Bennett tore his ACL in an Oct. 2 practice. Murray adjusted again when another favorite target, Marlon Brown, sustained the same injury during a win against Ole Miss on Nov. 3.
Bennett still ranks fourth among Bulldogs in receptions (24) this season, despite playing five games. Brown is third with 27 catches in eight games.
But Murray said he built chemistry with all of his receivers during the offseason. They'd call him to work out. He'd call them. Seven-on-seven drills. One-on-ones, too.
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So when the veteran targets went down, “there was no real dropoff at all,” Murray said.
And they've had extra time now to work out kinks during bowl prep. But Murray knows facing Nebraska's top-ranked pass defense won't be easy.
When speaking to reporters on a teleconference earlier this month, Murray hadn't yet extensively studied the Huskers' pass defensive scheme. At first glance, Murray said NU's matchup zone didn't seem too foreign to him, but he's expecting to see a motivated group of Huskers.
Georgia will counter with freshman running back Todd Gurley, who averages 15 carries per game, to take some pressure off Murray.
But Murray won't back down if he's asked to carry the load. He said he's simply relying on his teammates, though it often appears they're the ones who're inspired by him.
Said Georgia coach Mark Richt: “He's a winner.”
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