Rising redshirt senior Hutson Mason got a jump start on his one and only season as Georgia's starting quarterback when he stepped in for veteran Aaron Murray after Murray's season-ending ACL injury suffered against Kentucky in late November.
In his two-plus games as the No. 1 quarterback for the Bulldogs, he provided a glimpse into what the future holds for the 2014 Bulldogs.
The future is bright.
The 6'3", 202-pounder from Marietta, Ga., polished off a win over Kentucky, led the Bulldogs to their fifth straight win over in-state rival Georgia Tech in double overtime and then threw for 320 yards in the Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska.
After seeing him for two-and-a-half games as a starter, it's clear he has what it takes to be a winner but still has to take some steps this offseason. What are those steps?
|Hutson Mason Career Stats|
Better in the Red Zone
Don't be fooled by the loss to Nebraska. Mason did all he could in that loss to the Cornhuskers. Two drops each in consecutive fourth-quarter drives by then-seniors Rantavious Wooten and Arthur Lynch sent potential game-winning drives to screeching halts.
Those weren't Mason's fault, but they didn't help his red-zone stats. For the season, he completed just 38.9 percent of his red-zone passes (7-of-18) for 59 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
He doesn't have to be a superstar in the red zone. After all, with running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall at his disposal, he's not going to be asked to do an awful lot through the air inside the 20-yard line. But he'll have to do better than 38.9 percent.
He'll have plenty of options in the red zone when he does throw, including Gurley and Marshall out of the backfield, tight end Jay Rome and talented wide receivers Michael Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Chris Conley.
Find His Go-To Guy
When Mason came in for Murray in the middle of the Kentucky game, he found a wide-receiving corps that was a shell of its former self.
Mitchell missed essentially the entire season after tearing his ACL in the season-opener versus Clemson while celebrating a Gurley touchdown, Scott-Wesley was lost for the season with the same injury versus Tennessee and junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph never made the impact that was expected after dealing with a hamstring injury through most of the season.
Bennett was "the go-to guy" for Murray. He was the receiver Murray could count on no matter the situation.
Mason found Conley for 129 yards against Georgia Tech and is undoubtedly a candidate. But Bennett proved it time and time again throughout his career, and Mitchell could get some non-contact work in before the end of spring practice, according to Seth Emerson of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph.
Someone needs to step up and become a true No. 1 for Mason, and then the rest can fall into place.
In his first two starts of last season, Mason came out of the gate slowly. He was sacked twice in the first quarter against Georgia Tech and threw a pick as the Yellow Jackets jumped out to a 17-0 first quarter lead.
He was better against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl, tossing for 149 yards in the first half, but he couldn't punch it into the end zone as the Bulldogs trailed 10-9 at the half after three Marshall Morgan field goals.
Whether it's mixing up his pregame routine or just developing that comfort with being the unquestioned starter this offseason, he can't afford to come out of the gate slowly if he wants to lead his team to its third SEC East title in the last four years.
Mason is set up well to have success in his final season between the hedges. According to ESPN's Edward Aschoff, he was picked by readers to have the most touchdown passes in the SEC in a recent ESPN.com poll. With the weapons around him and the system in place, that isn't the most outlandish poll result in the world.
But he has to progress this spring and become more consistent if he wants to get the Bulldogs back to the Georgia Dome in early December.
* All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.