SEC title loss powers UGA's summer

HOOVER, Ala. -- Aaron Murray walked off Georgia’s practice fields Tuesday with a smile on his face.

The reason? He and his teammates had just completed workouts and passing drills without a single absentee.

“I left the field just grinning. It was probably the happiest I’ve been in a while,” Murray said Thursday at SEC media days. “It was, ‘Hey man, this team’s excited, this team’s determined, this team’s ready to work.’ ”

The Bulldogs’ senior quarterback said high attendance is typically the norm at June passing sessions, but July often becomes more of a struggle. Not so this year, which is why Murray said it has been “by far the best offseason I’ve had.”

Murray believes he knows what inspired the change, too: the Bulldogs’ near-miss against Alabama in the SEC championship game. One of the season’s most exciting contests came down to one final play, and the Bulldogs came up on the short end, 32-28, when time expired just after receiver Chris Conley caught a deflected pass and tumbled down inbounds at the Alabama 5-yard line.

Alabama, of course, took advantage of the opportunity, and thrashed Notre Dame to claim a second straight BCS title -- a crown the Bulldogs genuinely believe could have been theirs if not for Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley’s clutch deflection of Murray’s pass.

“It definitely drives us,” Murray said. “You want to forget some of the outcome and how it ended and how close you were. But the experience we gained from that game, the knowledge, the learning, the thought that ‘Hey, we’re right there’ -- Georgia’s back and we’re able to compete against the best in the country, we deserve to be in the SEC championship game and we’ve just got to keep working hard. We’ve got to stay hungry.

“We’ve been extremely hungry this whole offseason and we’ve got to stay this way the last two weeks [of summer] and throughout camp. There’s a lot of confidence right now in this team and what we’re able to do and how far we can go this year.”

That, Murray said, is why he turned down a chance to enter the NFL draft after becoming the first player in SEC history to pass for 3,000-plus yards in three seasons. He has led the Bulldogs to a pair of Eastern Division titles, but his career goals are a bit higher.

“It’s my last go-round and it’s my last chance to try to win some championships,” Murray said. “I think that’s really been driving me this whole offseason to work hard, to push my teammates and get ready for a last season -- hopefully a very successful last season.”

Thus far, that approach seems to be resonating with teammates. Georgia was the overwhelming favorite at SEC media days to win the East again -- earning 149 first-place votes to runner-up South Carolina’s 75 and third-place Florida’s 19 -- but a division three-peat is not this team’s goal.

“I’d like to think we could end up where we left off,” senior tight end Arthur Lynch said, “but maybe get five more yards.”