For the most part Georgia fans look ahead to the 2014 season with a bit of trepidation. Such anxiety is understandable given the impending departure of a four-year starter at quarterback, Aaron Murray.
If the latter phases of Saturday’s game against Appalachian State are any indicator, such concerns may prove misguided.
Earlier this week, Murray told Marc Weiszer of DawgPost.com that his goal every week is to get a lead that is large enough for backups like Hutson Mason to get onto the field. Murray said that he wants "dominate" games and "let him play and let some of the young guys play." After a slow start on Saturday, Murray and the Bulldogs did just that.
Shortly after Murray set the Southeastern Conference record with his 115th career touchdown pass, Georgia fans got a glimpse into the future of the Bulldogs’ passing attack courtesy of backup QB Hutson Mason. With the Dawgs leading Appalachian State by 25 points at the start of the fourth quarter, Mason entered the game and instantly gave fans something to cheer about with a 24-yard completion to Jonathon Rumph.
While the level of competition Mason faced was hardly on par with the SEC gauntlet he will see next season, a lot can be gleaned from his quarter of play against the Mountaineers. Perhaps most notably, Mason once again proved to have a flair for dramatic entrances. Mason, who threw a 26-yard touchdown strike on his first collegiate pass attempt in 2010, once again seized the moment on Saturday, connecting on his first nine passes.
Such an opening stretch was hardly expected from Mason, who had not thrown a pass in regular-season play since 2011. Ironically, his ability to enter the game cold and perform at a high level is in stark contrast to Murray, who often starts slow despite being the most accomplished signal-caller in Georgia history.
Mason’s teammates, however, were hardly surprised. In true Georgia fashion, Mason orchestrated scoring drives by utilizing a number of weapons (he hit seven receivers) and relying on a balanced attack. Mason’s targets—lesser-known receivers like Rumph, Blake Tibbs and Kenneth Towns—also capitalized on playing time, and the end result was not only touchdown drives but also a creeping sense of optimism regarding next season.
Of all the receivers Mason found downfield, his chemistry with Rumph seemed particularly well tuned. Rumph, a junior college transfer who has played sparingly this season due to nagging injuries, got open repeatedly, and Mason connected with him on four occasions for gains of 24, 21, 16 and 37 yards.
In the most extensive appearance of his career, Mason was impressive, but his game was not without a blemish. An interception cut short his third drive and effectively ended what could have been a fairytale return to the field for a redshirt junior who has waited patiently for his time.
Nonetheless, there were plenty of reasons to feel good about Mason and the future of this Georgia offense. With loads of talent returning and a clearly developing rapport with Rumph, a tall, rangy receiver with big play potential, Mason will be able to step in where Aaron Murray left off.
He may not have Murray’s tenure, and he likely won’t break many of senior quarterback’s records, but Mason has composure and a keen understanding of Georgia’s offense. Those tools were on full display on Saturday, and they’ll likely serve the Dawgs well in 2014.