ATHENS, Ga. — Aaron Murray was going over plays in the meeting room when Georgia’s offensive coordinator wrote five numbers on the board.
All of them belonged to receivers.
“Is that the depth chart?” Murray asked.
“No,” coordinator Mike Bobo replied. “It’s a new formation.”
Murray’s face lit up.The No. 5 Bulldogs have been running their own version of the “Fun ‘n’ Gun” offense through the first five weeks of the season, lighting up opponents with a dizzying array of weapons.
Georgia (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) has scored more than 40 points in every game, and is averaging a league-leading 536 yards each time out. It’s easy to see why. Murray is an experienced, talented quarterback with a host of capable receivers. In last week’s wild 51-44 victory over Tennessee, the Bulldogs ran about a half-dozen plays with five receivers on the field -- and no running backs.
But the ground game is strong, too, led by a pair of breakout freshmen. Todd Gurley leads the SEC in rushing, while good friend Keith Marshall ranks seventh.
“You have to pick your poison,” receiver Tavarres King said Tuesday. “The running game makes it easier for Aaron and the passing game. The passing game makes it easier for those (running backs) to do what they do.”
Now, it’s time to find out how good they really are.
The Bulldogs have built up their gaudy numbers against the likes of Vanderbilt, Florida Atlantic and Buffalo. They’ll be facing their stiffest challenge yet on Saturday when they hit the road to take on sixth-ranked South Carolina (5-0, 3-0), a showdown that many expect will determine who goes on to win the SEC East.
The Gamecocks have one of the nation’s top-ranked defenses, allowing a puny 11.2 points a game. They’ve surrendered just five touchdowns all season – only two of them on the ground. Georgia hasn’t scored fewer than five offensive touchdowns in any game and is tops in the conference with a staggering 19 rushing scores.
“They’ve got talent all over the board,” Murray said, giving his scouting report on South Carolina’s defense. “We definitely have our work cut out for us this week.”
Murray is too young to remember Steve Spurrier’s “Fun ‘n’ Gun” offense, which dominated the SEC when the Gamecocks coach was at Florida in the 1990s. Even so, the junior quarterback certainly believes the term fits when the Bulldogs have the ball, even though he got things a bit mixed up when he called it the “gun ‘n’ fun.”
The Bulldogs have gone for more balance than Spurrier’s pass-happy teams at Florida, averaging an SEC-leading 248.8 yards on the ground. Gurley and Marshall have quickly become thunder and lightning out of the backfield, complementing each other perfectly with their differing styles. Gurley has shown the power to run through would-be tacklers or swat them away with a devastating stiff arm. Marshall is more likely to run right by a defender.
Gurley has rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the first five games. Marshall has a pair of 100-yard efforts. Together, they are averaging more than 8 yards per carry.
With defenses having to focus on stopping those two, Murray is having the best season of an already stellar career. He’s the SEC’s top-rated passer, completing nearly 69 percent of his attempts, with 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions – one of them on a tipped ball. He’s only one away from tying David Greene’s school record of 72 career TDs.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Murray said. “I’m loving what coach Bobo is doing right now. He’s really spreading things out and giving me a ton of options. I had five receivers last week. I don’t think anyone in Georgia history has seen that before.”
While Georgia doesn’t have a standout receiver along the lines of A.J. Green, who played for the Bulldogs from 2008-10, there’s a lot more depth. Marlon Brown has a couple of 100-yard games. King and Michael Bennett each have one. Rantavious Wooten has caught a half-dozen passes. So has Malcolm Mitchell, who is back getting the bulk of his snaps on offense after starting the season as a cornerback to bolster a depleted secondary.
Even tight end Arthur Lynch (six receptions, 148 yards, one TD) has developed into an effective weapon in the short passing game.
“They’re a good offense because they can run and can throw it,” Spurrier said.
Murray is the one who makes it all go. There’s no question that he’s got the head to run a complex offense, having already earned his degree in psychology and now taking graduate-level courses. Even with his classroom responsibilities, he’s renowned for his work in the film room, spending far more time watching video than anyone else on the team.
The results are obvious on the field, where the Bulldogs give Murray plenty of leeway to change things up at the line after he gets a look at the defense.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in him, period,” head coach Mark Richt said. “When we call a game, we put a lot in his hands.”
About the only thing missing from Murray’s resume is a victory over a top-10 opponent.
He can take care of that hole in his record on Saturday.
“As an offense, we’re feeling extremely good about the way we’ve been able to move the ball and put points on the board,” Murray said. “As long as we keep preparing and working like we have been, I think our guys can put some points on the board once again.”