Aaron Murray had already committed to Georgia in 2008, but he’d never been to a game at Sanford Stadium before the Bulldogs’ regular-season showdown with Alabama that year.
Murray was among the top recruits in the country, and his No. 1 priority that Saturday was convincing a few other big names to join him as part of the 2009 signing class. This game figured to be the perfect opportunity to close the deal. Georgia had entered the 2008 season ranked No. 1 in the nation, led by Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and A.J. Green, and was off to a 4-0 start. It was a prime-time game, national TV. ESPN’s College GameDay was on campus that morning, and the Bulldogs had already announced they’d be wearing their famed all-black jerseys, which they’d worn to much fanfare during wins over Auburn and Hawai’i the year before. The environment was electric, well, until about 20 minutes after kickoff.
By halftime, Alabama led 31-0. The Nick Saban era had officially begun, and Georgia’s hopes for a national championship in 2008 were all but over.
“I just remember at halftime, they’re getting their butts spanked,” Murray said. “And all these recruits were saying, ‘I thought Georgia was good. What’s the deal?’ I just said it must’ve been an off night but, ‘Hey, those jerseys look sweet.'”
Fast forward to the scars of 2012…
Murray knows the feeling.
In the 2012 SEC championship, with the Tide leading 32-28, he led Georgia on a potential game-winning drive. The Dawgs had the ball, first-and-goal at the Alabama 8 with just 15 seconds to play and the clock running.
“People say we should’ve clocked the ball,” former Georgia coach Mark Richt explained in a measured, matter-of-fact tone that suggested he’s told this story a million times before. “But if you throw into the end zone, you’re going to get three plays. If you clock it, you’re going to get two. Strategically, it was not a bad thing.”
Problem is, the strategy backfired. Murray’s first-down pass was tipped and caught by Conley, who couldn’t get out of bounds before the clock expired, sending Alabama on to the BCS national championship game, where the Tide annihilated Notre Dame.
“I’d love to put it behind me, but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen,” Murray said. “I still have nightmares about that drive.”
And you thought you had it bad.
“The media is going to continue to talk about how you haven’t beaten Alabama and look at recent history and look at what happened four weeks ago,” Murray said. “You can look at the film and say Georgia is more talented, but every single day all you hear is Georgia can’t get over the hump, Georgia can’t get over the hump. You want to walk into the stadium with the confidence of knowing you can win the game, but that’s in the back of your head. That’s part of the reason Alabama has had so much success the past 15 years. When a team looks across the field they see Nick Saban, and the trophies. And the success. And the first-rounders. And the Heisman Trophy winner. And you say, ‘Man, how can we get through this?'”
Good question. We find out tomorrow if they do.