While this Saturday’s game against Appalachian State may not move the meter for Georgia Bulldogs fans within the context of this season, it carries quite a bit of significance for those looking ahead to 2014. If Georgia can race out to an early lead thanks to an increasingly healthy offense, an improving defense and a decisive talent advantage, then Dawg fans may get their only prolonged look at Georgia’s quarterback of the future, Hutson Mason.
Although Georgia will come up short of its ultimate goal of a trip to Pasadena for the BCS National Championship, there is still plenty for this Bulldog team to play for. Accordingly, starting quarterback Aaron Murray will continue to be the featured signal-caller as he chases down every remaining career passing mark that the SEC has to offer. In light of that, this may be the only game that will feature Mason prior to his 2014 debut.
Mason, a junior as far as eligibility is concerned, redshirted last season in an effort to gain some separation from Murray. Many expected Murray would leave for the NFL following a stellar 2012 campaign, and in theory the redshirt year was supposed to give Mason two years as a starter. Obviously, Murray is still in Athens, and Mason's time will now be limited to just one year under center. But if his previous experience, limited as it may be, is any indicator, Mason may be a quality performer in his lone season as a starter.
A late bloomer in recruiting circles, Mason broke onto the national radar with a senior season that featured single-season Georgia state records in passing yards (4,560) and touchdown passes (54). He earned Parade Magazine All-American status that season and was hailed as the nation's 21st-best quarterback recruit with a 3-star rating by Rivals.
Unfortunately for Mason, when he arrived on campus, he was stuck behind a pretty decent redshirt freshman. Nevertheless, he made the most of his time spelling Murray. In fact, Mason’s very first pass was a 26-yard touchdown pass in Georgia’s 2010 season opener.
As a fifth-year senior, Mason will have an extensive understanding of Mike Bobo's offense next year. His greatest asset, however, will be the talent surrounding him. Georgia's defense has been hailed as young and inexperienced all season long, but it is improving and will return a lot of talent in 2014. Offensively, nearly all of the Dawgs' weapons (outside of tight end Arthur Lynch) will likely be back.
Through eight games, 26 Bulldogs who will still be eligible to play in 2014 have registered starts. Those players have combined for 119 total starts this year:
|Current Class||Total Starts This Season|
Most importantly for Mason, he will be surrounded by a number of returning offensive linemen (David Andrews, Watts Dantzler, Kolton Houston, Hunter Long and John Theus all start or play a lot of snaps) and the Bulldogs will bring back the following playmakers on offense:
|Player||Position||Current Class||Career Yards||Total TDs|
|Todd Gurley||Running Back||Sophomore||2181||25|
|Malcolm Mitchell||Wide Receiver||Junior||1292||8|
|Keith Marshall||Running Back||Sophomore||1207||11|
|Chris Conley||Wide Receiver||Junior||1048||12|
|Michael Bennett||Wide Receiver||Junior||900||11|
|Justin Scott-Wesley||Wide Receiver||Sophomore||446||3|
|J.J. Green||Running Back||Freshman||390||1|
|Brendan Douglas||Running Back||Freshman||344||2|
|Jay Rome||Tight End||Sophomore||227||2|
|Reggie Davis||Wide Receiver||Freshman||189||1|
How Will Mason Hold Up?
If Mason can adequately spread the ball around and the defense makes strides, next year’s squad should fare favorably against a relatively manageable schedule. Georgia gets a rebuilding Clemson team at home to open the season, but other nonconference games will come against lowly foes like Troy, Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech. Most importantly, Georgia avoids Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M from the SEC West while drawing Arkansas on the road and taking on Auburn at home.
But its hard to get too excited about the future without knowing more about Hutson Mason. He's been impressive when he’s been on the field, but he hasn't thrown a pass in game competition since the 2011 SEC Championship Game.
This summer, Mark Richt told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald that Mason had developed into a more than capable backup. He went so far as to compare the situation to when D.J. Shockley (a Georgia legend in his own right) was backing up David Greene in the early 2000s, saying:
He’s very ready to go. Very similar to when David Greene was playing and D.J. Shockley was right there with him. Obviously D.J. did a great job, won an SEC championship in his senior season in 2005. It’s hard to be that No. 2 guy. Hutson has been a tremendous warrior for us in a lot of ways. He knows he’s one play away, God forbid for Aaron’s sake and Georgia’s sake, but he’ll be ready. Hopefully we can get him in some games and really get him ready for his opportunity next year as well.
Mason will get an opportunity this Saturday, and his production may prove to be a litmus test for next year's offensive success. Shockley played well in relief of David Greene for three years. As a full-time starter, he won his first seven games in 2005 and guided the Bulldogs to their last SEC Championship.
Shockley and Mason differ significantly in playing style, but Georgia fans will be looking for the same kind of spark on Saturday.