When the Bulldogs take the field on Jan. 1 to face Nebraska in the Gator Bowl, it will not only be the final game of the season, but it will mark the first look at the 2014 version of the squad.
The reason for that is Hutson Mason will make his second straight start. He will be looking to have a better performance after impressing many folks with his play against Georgia Tech.
Mason has a lot of upside, and he has been waiting patiently for his turn to make a splash. With him being a senior next year, Mason wants to make the most out of his limited amount of action. It started with a great showing against Georgia Tech, and the fans hope it will only get better moving forward.
Here’s a preview of the Mason era.
Mason has a lot of strengths, and they have been on display this season. He has a stronger arm and can put a lot of zip on his throws.
And like Aaron Murray, he is very accurate and can make good decisions. Mason completed 61 percent of his passes against Georgia Tech and 68 percent of his passes against Appalachian State and Kentucky.
Mason also makes quick decisions. He will never hold on to the ball very long, and he always knows where he wants to go with the football.
But the biggest thing going for Mason is his mental toughness. He did not play well at the start of the game against Georgia Tech. But he kept on fighting and never got down on himself. Because of that, he was able to lead the Bulldogs to one of their best wins in the history of the series.
If there is a glaring weakness from Mason, it’s the fact he’s not mobile in the pocket. Mason is a traditional dropback passer and will only run if it’s a last resort.
Also, if he feels pressure, he will tend to force throws and will make mistakes. That goes for any quarterback in college, but the reason the Bulldogs fell into a hole against Georgia Tech was Mason could not weather the storm caused by the Tech defense.
Those weaknesses can be fixed over time. Mason won’t get rid of them overnight, but as he plays more games and gets more reps with the first team, he should show signs of improvement.
Out of all the offensive starters for the Gator Bowl and all of the 2014 season, Mason will be in the minority when it comes to experience. But he knows and the rest of the Bulldogs know that this is now his team, and he has to be the leader.
He showed signs of that in the spring when he got into a confrontation with linebacker Amarlo Herrera. He also showed his leadership skills in the Georgia Tech game, leading a second-half rally that eventually led to a win in overtime.
Murray was a leader on this team which is why he will be missed. Mason does not have to lead like Murray, but he has to be able to carry the team when his name is called.
This will be the third time under head coach Mark Richt that there will be a senior quarterback to be a first-year starter.
In 2005, D.J. Shockley led the Bulldogs to their last SEC title. In 2009, Joe Cox led the Bulldogs to an 8-5 record.
Like Cox and Shockley, Mason has seen a lot of playing time and knows what is expected of him moving forward. A rebuilding season is not in the plans for him or anybody associated with the Bulldogs.
So, will Mason have a season like Cox in which the Bulldogs took a step back, or will he have a season like Shockley and be on top of the SEC?
Because of the talent he has coming back on offense and the experience returning on defense, Mason should be able to have a big year.
So, throwing for 3,100 yards and 25 touchdowns is not out of the question. In fact, it’s a realistic goal, especially when he has Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Justin Scott-Wesley, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett coming back.
As far as the record goes for the Bulldogs, if they remain healthy and the defense can improve, there is no reason why Mason can’t lead the Bulldogs to a 10-win season.
Now will they have enough to win the SEC? That remains to be seen, but fans should be very excited about Mason leading the 2014 Bulldogs.