When the Georgia Bulldogs hit the field on Saturday to face the South Carolina Gamecocks, they know they have to be efficient on offense in order to come away with a win.
That will not be an easy task because Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is one of the most feared players in college football.
After a sluggish performance against North Carolina last week (three tackles, zero sacks), Clowney looks to bounce back in a huge way against Murray and the Bulldogs.
And when the Bulldogs offensive line is coming off of a rough outing against the Clemson defensive line, Murray will have to do a lot more to protect himself.
Here are Murray’s five keys for surviving Clowney.
When a team is going up against a defensive end like Clowney, the short passing game has to be a priority.
Murray will have to use more three-step dropbacks because he can’t afford to sit back in the pocket and wait for the receivers to run their routes.
And speaking of receivers, the Bulldogs have the right personnel to have a short passing game. Chris Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley have the speed to take any reception to the house on any given play.
The short passing game was not used against Clemson, which is why defensive end Vic Beasley was able to feed on Murray all game long.
One of the things Murray has gotten away from over the years is being mobile.
In his first two seasons at Georgia, Murray rushed for 270 yards. Last year and in the first game against Clemson, Murray has rushed for a combined minus-83 yards.
There’s no doubt Clowney is going to be gunning for Murray every play, so being able to run is key.
Murray can’t afford to stay in the pocket and wait for the play to develop. The South Carolina defensive line is very aggressive, but if Murray can get back to running the ball a bit more when the opportunity presents itself, Clowney will have to be more cautious when it comes to pass-rushing.
In a game like this, running the ball will also be a priority.
That is where Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall come in. They will have to run the ball like they did against Clemson in order to a take the pressure off of Murray as well as keep Clowney at bay.
That said, both Marshall and Gurley did not fare well against the Gamecocks defense last year. Gurley rushed for 39 yards on 13 carries, and Marshall rushed for 37 yards on 12 carries.
But both backs are bigger, stronger and faster this season. And the fact that they are in their second year will benefit them in a huge way.
If Gurley and Marshall can keep the chains moving, they will wear down Clowney, and that will lead to more opportunities for big plays in the passing game for the Bulldogs.
Pocket presence will be another key for Murray in the game on Saturday.
There will be times when Clowney will get a hit on Murray. But it’s vital for Murray to stay in the pocket and remain calm.
Murray was sacked five times last week, but he still managed to throw for more than 300 yards and kept the Bulldogs in the ballgame.
With the experience he has and the many good defenses he has faced, Murray should have no issue keeping pocket presence. But when Clowney is at your throat for 60 minutes, it can be a difficult task.
Screen passes can be an Achilles' heel for a defender like Clowney.
As mentioned earlier, Murray will need to use more of the short passing game, as in dropping back three steps instead of five or seven.
In this case, Murray is letting Clowney come to him before he dumps it off to Gurley or Marshall, which could make Clowney frustrated.
Murray should also get the receivers in the screen passing game because Conley and Scott-Wesley can be explosive in open space.
The reality of the situation is the Bulldogs are not going to completely stop Clowney. But if Murray is able to do these five things to keep Clowney in check, the Bulldogs will come away with the victory.