Georgia's Aaron Murray has scaled learning curve faster than Florida's John Brantley

Florida quarterback John Brantley has taken over for celebrated Tim Tebow.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The quarterbacks in Saturday's Georgia-Florida game at EverBank Field are both in their first season as starters, but that's where the similarities end.

While Florida's John Brantley continues to struggle in the spread-option offense, Georgia's Aaron Murray has progressed to the point where the coaching staff is ready to turn him loose.

That certainly is an advantage for the Bulldogs (4-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) as they try to beat the Gators (4-3, 2-3 SEC) for the third time in seven seasons.

"His progression has been very good from the very beginning," Georgia coach Mark Richt said of Murray, a 6-foot-1, 209-pound redshirt freshman from Tampa. "I think he's pretty much done what we've asked him to do all along. I know we weren't getting the results in the win column that we were looking for, but I wouldn't relate that to Aaron Murray not doing what he was being asked to do at any time of the season."

Murray has thrown for 1,766 yards and 12 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He had a solid debut - 160 yards and three touchdowns and one interception - against Louisiana-Lafayette before a bit of a lull in his next three games.

Richt said the plan was to work Murray along slowly, and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was careful to keep the game plan simple.

"We didn't want to put him in the fryer too fast and then he struggles and loses confidence," Richt said. "So we thought we brought him along at a good pace and maybe even brought him along at a quicker pace because his preparation has been pretty outstanding. He's been able to handle most everything we've thrown at him to this point.

"Now, he's to the point where we're pretty confident we could do just about anything we want to do offensively, as far as schematically. We're not afraid to allow him to run the system."

Murray showed how much he has progressed in the past three games.

Murray threw for a career-high 266 yards and two TDs against Tennessee and was named the SEC's freshman of the week. He topped that performance against Vanderbilt the following week, throwing for 287 yards and two scores to earn the honor again.

He completed at least 62.5 percent of his passes in the past three games and didn't throw an interception.

"I think I'm just becoming more comfortable out there," Murray said. "There's a lot to learn when you're playing against SEC defenses. The speed of the game is a little different, getting through your progressions and things like that. The easier you are able to identify defenses and understand where they're bringing the pressure from and where they're rotating the safeties, that just makes your progression from receiver one to two to three a lot smoother, a lot easier.

"I feel like I'm starting to see things a little bit more clearly."

If anything, things are getting muddier for Brantley. He's a drop-back passer who doesn't fit well in coach Urban Meyer's spread-option offense. Brantley has been hurt by poor pass protection, drops and injuries to running backs Jeff Demps, Emmanuel Moody and Mike Gillislee.

Brantley has six touchdown passes, five interceptions, and 181 yards passing per game - paltry numbers compared to the stats the Gators have put up the past three seasons.

Add in a three-game losing streak that includes scoring just seven points at home against Mississippi State, and it's certainly not what he expected in his first season as Tim Tebow's successor.

"I've been in the system for three years already, so I feel comfortable with that," said Brantley, a 6-3, 220-pound redshirt junior from Ocala. "Just moving from the practice field to the game field is a little nerve-racking at first, but I'm getting more comfortable as it goes."

Still, Brantley hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in October - his last was against Kentucky on Sept. 25. He has thrown four interceptions and been sacked seven times in the three games since.

Not surprisingly, the Gators have lost all three.

"There's one way that we evaluate quarterbacks here [victories]," Meyer said. "To say we're thrilled with where we're at offensively and he's the focal point of the offense, that'd be a false statement. To say that he's handling himself very well, to say he's managing the team, to say that he does throw a very nice pass and he hit five third-and-longs against Tennessee, those are all very good."

Stopping the program's longest regular-season losing streak since 1988 would be better.

michael.dirocco@jacksonville.com,
(904) 359-4500

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