CLEMSON — Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd of Clemson are poised to put on an aerial display.
And if the two record-setting quarterbacks have a good game Saturday when the fifth-ranked Bulldogs play the No. 8 Tigers at Death Valley, the winner will likely become an early front-runner in the Heisman Trophy race.
The seniors postponed careers in the NFL for a final college season. Now they share the spotlight in a nationally televised marquee matchup on college football’s opening weekend.
Murray has led Georgia to the past two Southeastern Conference East Division titles. Boyd helped Clemson reach the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 2011, and 11 wins last year – the Tigers highest victory total in 31 years.
“If you like quarterback play,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I imagine a lot of people will really enjoy this game.”
Except maybe defenders on both sides of the ball. Murray threw for 3,893 yards and 36 touchdowns a year ago.
He’s the only SEC player to pass for 3,000 yards his first three years and, if he does it again this year, will join Hawaii’s Timmy Chang and Boise State’s Kellen Moore as the only players in NCAA history to accomplish to reach the milestone four straight seasons.
Murray was recently voted the SEC’s first-team quarterback over Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M by league coaches.
Boyd has excelled at Clemson’s high-speed offense the past two seasons. He finished with 3,896 yards and 36 touchdowns last season to win the ACC player of the year.
The two were high school stars who went to the Elite 11 passing camp before college. They’ve stayed friendly through the years.
“It’s great to see how far we’ve come since then and how exciting our careers have been,” Murray says.
Make no mistake, Boyd says, both want to come out on top in this one.
“Always, always, especially when you’ve got a guy who’s so high caliber,” Boyd said. “You want to be the best quarterback that day. That just comes with the territory. I want to be the best quarterback” on Saturday night.
The two also found themselves called out by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney as “scared” to face the South Carolina All-American. Murray and Boyd were depicted in a recent ESPN feature as fearful sleepers filled with nightmares of Clowney.
“I thought it was kind of funny,” Boyd said. “They had Aaron with the slick hair. At least my guy had a helmet on.”
Five things to watch in this top-10 showdown:
‘GURSHALL’ TO THE RESCUE: Georgia’s two-man tailback, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, could make the difference in this closely contested matchup. The two combined for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns as freshmen last season and give the Bulldogs a dimension that Clemson might not be able to match without last year’s senior star in tailback Andre Ellington. The top three backs on the Tigers depth chart, Roderick McDowell, D.J. Howard and Zac Brooks went for a total of 706 yards and 7 TDs in 2012.
SCARY SECONDARYS: Both Georgia and Clemson defensive coaches and fans will be biting their nails each time Murray or Boyd drop back to pass. The Bulldogs secondary will have two freshman and former walk-on Connor Norman as starters. Norman’s starting for suspended starter Josh Harvey-Clemons. Clemson’s secondary will have likely count on three players in Darius Robinson, Martin Jenkins and Bashaud Breeland who missed significant time last year because of injuries.
WHO’S ON D? Georgia lost several stalwarts from last season’s defense, which produced seven NFL draft picks last spring including first-rounders Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. Look for sophomore linebacker Jordan Jenkins to take over the pass-rush for the Bulldogs.
CLEMSON GOES QUICK: The Tigers offense doesn’t want to waste a second when it’s out there. They squeezed off 100 plays – their second-best showing in 2012 – in defeating SEC power LSU, 25-24, at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Third-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris wants to up the tempo even more under third-year quarterback Boyd.
LONG TIME RIVALS: Georgia’s campus is about two hours from Clemson and the schools have played several memorable contests through the years. The Bulldogs have won the past five in the series and hold a 41-17-4 edge. The Tigers point to the fact that in three games against Georgia great Herschel Walker the Heisman Trophy winner never crossed the end zone. The Bulldogs won the last time the teams met in 2003, quarterback David Greene leading a 30-0 rout at Death Valley.