The SEC generally is known for its conservative approach of running the ball and playing defense, but on Saturday night in the Georgia Dome, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Alabama signal-caller AJ McCarron will be front and center as potential difference-makers in the SEC Championship Game.
Murray has completed 66.6 percent of his passes for 3,201 yards, 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season, but he has been erratic at times. McCarron has been a model of efficiency, completing 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,507 yards, 25 touchdowns and only two picks.
Which quarterback will has the edge on Saturday night?
Murray is more high-risk, high-reward, but he has been rewarding the Bulldogs with some stellar play down the stretch, tossing 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the final month of the season. The seven picks are concerning, but Murray is certainly more consistent than he was last season, when he set the Georgia single-season record for touchdown passes with 35.
But it's Murray's lack of success in big games that has haunted him throughout his career.
The redshirt junior is 3-9 versus teams ranked in the Top 25, with two of the wins coming over Auburn and Georgia Tech last season—both of which were average at best. The third was the 17-9 win over Florida this season, when he threw three picks and his team won despite him.
Despite the loss of wide receivers Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown to season-ending injuries, Murray still has plenty of weapons with Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King outside and a solid running game behind him. If there is a weakness, it's an offensive line which has been inconsistent at times.
McCarron is a gunslinger, but to his credit, he has tempered that gunslinger mentality for the better good of his team and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's system.
Like Murray, McCarron has plenty of weapons with wide receivers Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood, but he has lost other key receivers to season-ending injuries, including DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell.
For the most part, he makes smart decisions gets the ball out quickly and only gambles when the risk is low. He knows that turning around and handing off to running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon is generally a good idea.
Plus, above all else, he has tasted success in big games, including taking home the Offensive MVP award of the 2012 BCS National Championship Game after the 2011 season.
So who has the edge in the Georgia Dome?
Both are fantastic quarterbacks, but because Murray is hot right now, and because I think that Georgia will focus more on the passing game than Alabama, I'll give the edge to Murray.
It seems like the light went on for Murray at halftime of the Florida game after he tossed three picks in the first half, and until someone can break that momentum, you have to go with the hot hand.
Considering LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel exposed Alabama's secondary a bit this month, at least by Alabama standards, you'd think that Georgia would put more emphasis in the passing game in this week's game plan.
That's not a knock against McCarron. Choosing between he and Murray is like choosing between a filet mignon and a New York Strip at a fine steakhouse. You can't really go wrong either way.
Since Murray has been a game-changer of late, I'll give a slight edge to the Bulldog signal-caller.
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