Heisman Watch Week 2: Aaron Murray re-enters mix, gets big-game monkey off back
It’s funny the difference that one week can make in the race for the Heisman Trophy. Just last weekend, when Georgia dropped a close game on the road to Clemson – a fellow top-10 team – few were giving Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray any further shot at the Heisman. Now, a little more than a week later -- and after a monumental victory between the hedges -- the senior finds himself back in the mix for college football’s most prestigious award.
The Dawgs’ passer was the catalyst in No. 11 Georgia’s wild 41-30 win over sixth-ranked South Carolina, completing 17-of-23 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. Murray did all of this this without the team’s leading receiver, Malcom Mitchell, who tore his ACL last week against the Tigers. Without his number one target, Murray reverted back to his old efficient ways. He kept his poise against the Gamecocks' defense, and he largely neutralized ballyhooed defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. "Aaron played a pretty good game,” Clowney told reporters after the loss. “He threw it quick and ran it away from me the whole game."
Perhaps most importantly for Murray, his team remains in the race for the SEC East. Just two weeks into the season, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have each already suffered one loss. That means the road to a BCS bowl remains open for the Bulldogs, and thus Murray’s Heisman candidacy likewise stays afloat.
Heisman Watch - Week 2
1. Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson
2. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
3. Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville
4. Aaron Murray, QB Georgia
5. Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M
6. Braxton Miller, QB Ohio State
7. Todd Gurley, RB Georgia
8. De’Anthony Thomas, RB Oregon
9. AJ McCarron, QB Alabama
10. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
Player of the Week
Aaron Murray, QB Georgia
Week 2 stats: 17-of-23, 309 yards, four touchdowns
For much of the quarterback’s career at Georgia, the knock against Murray was his inability to win the “big game." It’s difficult to argue with history: Before the Bulldogs' win over South Carolina last Saturday, he had a 1-6 record as a starter against top-10 teams. Under pressure, Murray nevertheless performed brilliantly against one of the country’s toughest defenses -- one that last week held North Carolina’s spread attack to 10 points, its lowest total under coach Larry Fedora.
Hoping to remain in the hunt for the national title, Georgia could not afford to begin the season 0-2. In the fourth quarter against the Gamecocks, Murray's 85-yard touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley with 13 minutes left extended the Dawgs’ lead to 11. After the Georgia defense made a stop, Murray engineered a clock-draining 13-play, 81-yard drive to run out the remaining 8:28.
In the win, Murray moved into second place on the school’s all-time total offense list (10,907 yards), but perhaps more importantly, he took an enormous step into shaking the big-game monkey off his back.
"Murray created some big plays by scrambling, moving around and standing in the pocket like a champion," coach Mark Richt said.
Vegas tabbed the Cardinals’ signal-caller as the Heisman favorite after Week 1, and he continued to rip apart his opponents in Week 2. Bridgewater hit eight different receivers while throwing for 397 yards and four touchdowns against overmatched Eastern Kentucky. The junior has now completed 76.7 percent of his passes on the season, with 12.5 yards per attempt and a 10-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
It doesn’t take long for Oregon’s top tailback to find his groove. Of Thomas’ 252 rushing yards this season, 148 have come in the first quarter, as have four of his five rushing touchdowns. Thanks to the junior's penchant for starting fast, Thomas ran for 124 yards on only 11 carries in a win over Virginia. He’ll continue to face an in-house battle with quarterback Marcus Mariota for Heisman chatter, but Thomas is making the most of his carries, averaging 8.7 yards per rush in 2013.
Who was the last redshirt freshman quarterback to exceed expectations the way Winston did last Monday? What Florida State’s new quarterback did in a Week-1 victory over Pitt – completing 25-of-27 passes for 356 yards, and having a hand in five total touchdowns – shouldn’t really be compared to what Johnny Manziel did as a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M in 2012; the bar was much higher from the get-go for Winston, whose athleticism was already becoming stuff of legend this offseason. But if he handles Clemson on Oct. 19 like Manziel handled Alabama last year, the Seminoles signal-caller could enjoy a similar rise to Heisman stardom.
Whether or not the Michigan-Notre Dame matchup should be deemed a “rivalry,” Gardner’s performance for the Wolverines is another reason why the series remains must-watch football. The junior threw for four touchdowns and ran for another as he donned a No. 98 jersey to honor former Michigan great Tom Harmon. With the Wolverines nursing a four-point lead, Gardner sealed the win when he found senior receiverDrew Dileo in the end zone with 4:18 left.
Whatever is going on with USC is not good for Lee’s candidacy. The 25th-ranked Trojans were awful on offense in a loss to Washington State on Saturday, and the passing game was non-existent, mustering only 54 yards against the Cougars. Without a competent quarterback, Lee’s production will suffer; he caught seven balls for only 27 yards against Wazzu.
Does it seem like Clowney’s production has dropped off from last season? On paper, that’s not the case: Through the first two games of 2012, Clowney recorded six total tackles and one sack. Thus far this year he also has six tackles and one sack. But offenses are now more wary of his game-changing abilities, as noted by the amount of double teams he received against North Carolina. That’s translating to fewer big plays despite a brighter spotlight, which is not a good recipe for his Heisman hopes.
Ohio State’s junior quarterback sprained his left knee on the Buckeyes’ seventh play from scrimmage against San Diego State. He sat for the final three quarters, though coach Urban Meyer told reporters that the measure was simply a precaution. “I think there’s a chance he’ll be ready next week,” Meyer said after the win. From a Heisman perspective, Miller had better hope he's ready to play. In the modern era, only USC’s Charles White (1979) and Florida State’s Charlie Ward (1993) have won the trophy after missing a game.
One week after averaging a whopping 9.8 yards per carry against Florida Atlantic, Johnson responded by averaging a mere 2.8 in Miami's upset of the Gators on Saturday. Sure, the Hurricanes’ faced a tougher opponent, and yes, Johnson still managed to find the end zone, but this dark horse won’t be climbing the Heisman ladder without terrific performances against big-time programs. We need to see more from Johnson.
Tweets of the week:
It’s time to give Aaron Murray a break.
Hindsight is 20/20…
Perhaps all the hype surrounding Jadeveon Clowney was… premature?
Video of the week:
On Oregon’s sixth play from scrimmage, Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota scampered to the end zone for 71 of his 122 rushing yards on the day.