Aaron Murray rewrote the passing record book at the University of Georgia. At the end of his illustrious career, he left with practically every career mark and as the leader of a host of single-season and individual game statistical categories.
Let’s hope some of those records were written in pencil, because Hutson Mason might alter a few.
Obviously Mason, a fifth-year senior, won’t contend with any of Murray’s career numbers, but the new man under center is poised to threaten—or even break—a few single-season standards.
If Mason breaks out in eye-popping statistical fashion as a senior, it won’t be the first time. In his final year at Lassiter High School in Marietta, Ga., Mason set the state record for passing yards (4,560) and passing touchdowns (54) in a single season.
To be fair, his high school program threw the ball an inordinate amount, but isn’t Georgia’s offense equally conducive to impressive passing performances? A scan of recent signal-callers bodes well for Mason’s senior campaign.
Matthew Stafford, the last multi-year quarterback starter at Georgia prior to Murray, turned a big arm into a first overall selection in the 2009 NFL draft. Sure, Stafford’s natural talent was undeniable, but his performance in Georgia’s pro-style offense maximized that display.
Although oft forgotten, Joe Cox found success in his lone season as a starter in 2009 when he threw for 2,584 yards and 24 touchdowns. He was even named Walter Camp National Player of the Week following a 375-yard, five-touchdown performance against Arkansas that year.
And of course, Murray's four years as a starter were defined by statistical milestones.
If healthy, Georgia may have more effective playmakers on offense than any team in the Southeastern Conference.
Running back Todd Gurley will take the pressure off Mason with his hard-nosed and explosive ground production, but he’s a threat in the passing game as well. In 2013, he hauled in 37 receptions for 441 yards and six touchdowns. He was used as a receiving outlet several times in Georgia’s spring game, so he appears poised to be a factor again in 2014.
Senior receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett return and bring not only experience but also high-level production. The two 6’3” receivers have combined for nearly 2,500 receiving yards to go with 25 touchdowns over the past three seasons.
And then, there’s Malcolm Mitchell, arguably Georgia’s most talented receiver. Mitchell should be fully recovered from a knee injury that kept him out for most of 2013. Despite a rash of injuries over the course of his career and a stint playing defensive back, Mitchell managed to rack up 1,237 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his first two seasons.
Furthermore, Justin Scott-Wesley, who was having a breakout season in 2013 when he tore his ACL, is expected back, and the continued development of sophomore Reggie Davis (Georgia’s record-holder for longest reception) and senior Jonathon Rumph (a big, physical downfield threat) will also add value to the offense.
With so many downfield options, it’s hard to anticipate a move away from the passing game—no matter how big the Heisman hype for Gurley may become.
What Is Mason Capable Of?
Mason has a proven track-record of performing in limited time. His first completion was a 26-yard scoring strike way back in 2010, and he performed well as Murray’s top backup.
Now, the challenge is asserting himself as the focal point of Georgia’s offense. Sure, players like Gurley may garner the headlines and pick up the end-of-season hardware, but this unit will move with and under the direction of Hutson Mason.
For Mason and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, that should be an encouraging challenge. And if spring practice was any indication, Mason’s ready to conquer.
Bobo, who’s become somewhat of a quarterback guru as of late, offered this assessment of the senior to Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer:
I thought Hutson had an outstanding spring. Really stepped up in the leadership department. Had great command of the offense. Was extremely accurate. Came every day prepared to get better. Even today was one of his better days, on the last days. He was extremely focused. I expect him to take that confident that he gained this spring and his leadership abilities and apply it to the summer.
If those characteristics—strong leadership, command of the offense, accuracy and preparedness—carry over into the fall, Mason is destined for a monstrous season statistically.
Over the past five seasons, Georgia has averaged just shy of 400 pass attempts per season, with over 90 percent of those reps belonging to the full-time starters.
If Mason registers 360 attempts (fewer than Murray had in 2011 and 2012), his career 60 percent completion percentage would equate to 216 completions. His 8.4 yards per attempt figure would translate to over 3,000 passing yards.
But those projections sell Mason short. After all, a good chunk of his previous reps came with second-team receivers after a lead was established. And as Bobo pointed out, Mason has improved his accuracy and command of the offense.
With that in mind, it’s possible that Mason will get a higher number of attempts and that he will do more with them. If healthy, Mason’s final statistical line could look something like this:
|Hutson Mason 2014 Statistical Projection|
|Pass Attempts||Pass Completions||Completion Percentage||Passing Yards||Touchdowns|
|Projection Based on Previous Stats|
Those numbers would threaten Georgia's single-season records, but more importantly, they would put Georgia in prime position to compete for an SEC championship. For Hutson Mason and the Georgia Bulldogs, that's more important.