Saturday won't serve as a referendum on Aaron Murray's career at Georgia.
No, the jury is still out on that one. But the facts of the case are easy to recite for anyone who has followed the Bulldogs since Murray became the team's starting quarterback in 2010.
Murray already owns — or will make his at some point before he departs Athens — every major school passing record. This list includes most touchdown passes in a season (35 in 2011) and a game (five, which ties him with four other former Bulldogs), as well as most passing yards by a freshman and sophomore. He could add another line to his resume Saturday, as he enters just one scoring toss away from tying David Greene's career record for touchdown passes which stands at 72.
I could continue listing more of Murray's accomplishments, but the most important stat entering Georgia's matchup against South Carolina on Saturday is this: 2-7. As in, Murray's mark in games against ranked teams.
Some would say I'm making the lowest-hanging fruit argument. Sure, these are stats that anyone could pull up. Why needlessly antagonize the Bulldog nation?
My response is simple: "Facts are facts." Murray's record against ranked teams is especially germane this week given the opponent.
Care to take a guess who handed Murray two of those losses? Isn't it obvious?
Two years ago, Murray didn't play badly (14-for-21, 192 yards and no interceptions) in Georgia's 17-6 loss to South Carolina. But he didn't play particularly good (no touchdowns passing or rushing), either. Yes, he may not have had A.J. Green available since he was serving his "Jerseygate" suspension, but as they say, you've got to dance with who brung ya.
Last season, Murray shouldered much of the blame for the Bulldogs' 45-42 defeat to the Gamecocks. The then-redshirt sophomore did pass for four touchdowns to keep the Bulldogs in it for the duration, but a pair of massive miscues by Murray — an interception and a fumble both returned for touchdowns — proved to be too much to overcome.
Obviously, it is hard to overstate the importance of Saturday's game to both Murray's legacy and Georgia's season. A loss, while not a death blow to their national championship hopes, relegates the Bulldogs to the background and adds to Murray's miserable mark against ranked foes. A victory keeps the Bulldogs undefeated and undoubtedly in the middle of the national title conversation. And for Murray's sake, it would finally be the "signature win" critics have been calling for.
Just don't ask Mark Richt about Murray needing a victory to buttress his standing in Georgia history. Richt's response to the query reminded me of a scene from "Field of Dreams," where Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner's character) dropped off Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) after they had gone to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play. While they were at the game, Kinsella saw a hidden message on the scoreboard, and Mann asked him to divulge what it was.
"It said, 'The man's done enough. Leave him alone.'"
Now cut back to Richt.
"I think some quarterbacks, early in their career, somewhere along the way, they need to play in such a way that the team has faith that, 'This guy can do it,'" Richt said. "And sometimes it happens to a kid real early in his career, like the kid over there at Texas A&M [Johnny Manziel]. Even though he lost that game against Florida, he played pretty darn good, and has continued to play well. Even though they lost that game, I would think most of their fans and coaches and teammates would say, 'This guy can do it.' So I think Murray is way past that."
No one is saying his teammates don't have faith in him. But the stats speak for themselves. Two wins in nine games isn't a winning percentage to write home about — heck, at .222, it's barely north of the Mendoza Line.
And despite Richt's defense of his quarterback, playing "pretty darn good" in defeat doesn't change the way the loss is viewed. You don't get "half" a loss if you play well in a losing effort.
Whether Saturday's outcome is a victory or a defeat, it won't stand as the final ruling on Murray's exploits as a Bulldog.
But a win spearheaded by Murray could set a precedent for the rest of the season, and establish a standard by which all of his ensuing performances against ranked foes be judged.
— Ryan Black is a senior from Elberton majoring in newspapers and the lead football writer of The Red & Black