Georgia's five-point loss at Auburn on Saturday was sadly microcosmic of senior quarterback Aaron Murray's final season as a Bulldog. On one hand, Murray played the game of a lifetime accounting for 452 yards of offense and four total touchdowns. He was flawless in the midst of three consecutive fourth-quarter touchdown drives that gave the Bulldogs a one-point lead after opening the final frame, trailing 37-17.
But even a superb performance by one of the Southeastern Conference's all-time greats wasn't enough to give the Bulldogs a victory. After accounting for 128 total yards and all three scores (the last coming on a gutsy touchdown run on fourth and goal from the 5-yard line) in a feverish comeback, Murray watched Auburn negate Georgia's lead with a 76-yard touchdown pass that was tipped up into the air by a Bulldog defensive back.
Despite molding his experience and leadership into one of the more impressive single-game performances of his career, the most unlikely of plays rendered his efforts ineffective in giving the Dawgs a win. Unfortunately for Murray, this type of occurrence has not been an isolated incident this season. Injuries, poor defensive execution and an inconsistent offensive line have all limited the Bulldogs from reaching the potential that so many saw heading into the season.
These shortcomings, for which the quarterback can claim little responsibility, are undoubtedly maddening for Murray, who made his intention clear before the season even began when he told ESPN.com's David Ching:
“The No. 1 reason why I came back this year is to win a championship -- to win an SEC championship game, to win a national championship So I think that’s pretty much it. If I leave here with a championship, with some rings, that’s all I care about."
And yet, this season—and even this game—cannot be viewed as insignificant within the grand display that has been Aaron Murray's career. Sure, he's set even more records this year, but more importantly, he established himself as one of the great big-game players in the country.
With Georgia's 6-4 record, Murray won't garner Heisman consideration. But, if a few other phases of games had gone differently (the defense hurt the Bulldogs against Missouri, while special teams errors gave Vanderbilt a win), he'd have no shortage of Heisman moments.
- If Georgia had connected on a short field goal earlier in the game, Murray's five-play, 64-yard drive against Clemson would have tied the game at 38. Instead, the Bulldogs lost by three.
- A few weeks later, Murray's 75-yard drive against LSU put Georgia ahead for good with just 1:47 remaining in the game.
- The very next week, Murray manufactured a 75-yard scoring drive to send the Tennessee game into overtime.
- Two weeks ago, Murray and the Georgia offense protected a shrinking lead by holding the ball for over eight minutes to close out the Florida Gators.
None of those moments would have compared to a 20-point comeback on the road against a Top 10 team with BCS Championship aspirations still intact. Murray should have had that moment. He earned it.
But his legacy is not diminished by the scoreboard. When his career is over, Murray will look back fondly at the many games he won, and this game may prove to be a painful memory. But fans won't define him merely by wins and losses. Fans will recall his his leadership, resiliency and calmness under pressure. Such characterization is quite an improvement for a quarterback who was viewed as incapable of winning big games just a few short months ago.
That paradoxical combination of tenacity and poise was showcased until the final tick, as Murray led one final Georgia drive on Saturday.
That will be Aaron Murray's legacy.
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