David Cloninger

September 7, 2013

Who Else?: Murray's last chance to be the Magic Man

Looking at Aaron Murray, Harry Potter and USC-Georgia

David Cloninger

All things Gamecocks, especially basketball and football

“Welcome to the Terrordome.” ---------------------- PUBLIC ENEMY

Little-known fact about Aaron Murray – he is a big Harry Potter fan.

Swear. I have a friend that used to work for The (Athens) Banner-Herald, and a couple of years ago, the paper was doing a photoshoot involving Murray. He showed up and my friend mentioned that she had seen him at the latest Harry Potter movie premiere a few nights before.

Murray mentioned that yes, he was there, and he had thought about dressing up for the premiere before running out of time. Folks do it all the time – big movies, some dress up as the movie characters. Just happened that this one would be an All-SEC quarterback.

He didn't do the actual dressing up. But that kind of thing didn’t do wonders for his reputation of being a great quarterback in the non-big games, and a bad quarterback in the big games. It all funnels into a label of “soft.”

There’s no denying that Murray hasn’t been his best in the biggest of games, and as his last chance to beat South Carolina arrives today, he’s feeling the pressure of finally getting the best of the Gamecocks. USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward understands that, and also understands the psychology of his position – he knows more than anyone that Murray gets flustered if he’s pressured or hit early, and Ward has a prime weapon to do that.

His defensive line, featuring Jadeveon Clowney and a rotation of pass-rushers that have a specialized package for rushing the quarterback, might as well adopt a nickname of “Death Eaters” today. If Murray can’t neutralize them, his personal Harry Potter tale won’t have nearly the same ending.

“We always want to affect the quarterback,” Ward said on Thursday. “The thing you have to understand as a coordinator, is you have to find out who’s running the engine of the train, and of course, Aaron Murray is. He makes his team go.”

Ward also mentioned that dealing with the lead guy in the opposing offense was like killing a snake (he refrained from calling it “Nagini”). The only way to do it was to cut its head off (works best with an enchanted sword swung by Neville Longbottom). After watching Clemson bring the pressure early on Murray last week, and knowing that USC can have the same effect on Murray with left tackle Kenarious Gates lobbying for the nickname “Swinging” last week, it’s an obvious point of the game plan.

Clowney has three career sacks against Murray, part of USC’s seven career sacks against Murray. Of Murray’s six career games without a touchdown pass, two of them have come against USC. The Gamecocks are in Murray’s head, and Ward plans to keep them there.

Remember two years ago when Clemson came to Williams-Brice Stadium? Then-DC Ellis Johnson called for a corner blitz on USC’s first defensive play and Stephon Gilmore bull-rushed Tajh Boyd. He blasted Boyd in the back as Boyd released, and while the ball fluttered harmlessly to the turf, the message was clear – USC’s pressure was going to be there all night.

Ward keeps most of Johnson’s basic tenets in his defensive sets and fully knows the advantage of bringing the heat early and often. With Murray, it’s even more so, and not just because of USC’s previous success against him – it’s because he’s a shorter quarterback, and can’t see over a lot of charging defensive linemen. He hasn’t yet shown that he can throw from a different arm slot to get the pass to a receiver.

With Murray’s bad showing last week, with USC’s coaches and national boys basically calling Clowney out for not playing his best last week, with previous history factored in, it’s easy to think Murray will again fold under pressure tonight. He won’t have any kind of Patronus charm to cast to protect himself from the marauding group of Gamecocks intent on walking out of Sanford Stadium with a win.

As a fellow Harry Potter geek, I’m wondering if Murray has the chops to overcome everything going against him. Perhaps he’s reading the Tri-Wizard Tournament chapters for inspiration.

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