Sure, it was G-Day. And no, it was never meant to be a fireworks show for offenses or a pressure-cooker for quarterbacks.
But for a guy whose legacy so far at Georgia has been to be unlucky enough to fall in line behind a record-setting quarterback in Aaron Murray, it was victory.
And Mason will take those when they come.
“I’m always trying to prove something,” said Mason, a 6-foot-3, 206-pound junior who is now 1-2 in G-Day games after leading the Black team to a 23-17 victory on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
“I always play with a chip on my shoulder. I’ve always got a lot to prove. And I have a lot to learn from this. I have to continue to improve. But overall I thought we did a good job. We stalled out early, but I’m happy with the performance that we put together.”
Saturday’s scrimmage also marked one of the few times outside of a closed practice that Mason has had the opportunity to run the offense for more than a few series. He played in four games in 2011, including making a career-high 11 completions for 131 yards in a rout of New Mexico State, and four in 2010 as a freshman. In all, Mason has passed for 356 yards and three touchdowns.
Mason has not been at the center of the offense this spring despite being the presumed No. 2 on the depth chart. He redshirted the 2012 season with the goal of putting aside a year or eligibility in case Murray decided to enter the NFL Draft. Because of that, his work has mostly been with the backups, but he has built a reputation in what time he has had with running an offense.
“I don’t think anybody bats an eye when Hutson comes in the game,” said receiver Chris Conley, who played for the Red team Saturday. “He’s been around so much that he knows the offense like the back of his hand, and he’s got a cannon for an arm. We just expect him to make plays when he’s there.”
For the most part Saturday, he did that. Mason connected with junior-college transfer Jonathon Rumph for a 20-yard touchdown and finished 16 of 27 with 191 yards (nine shy of Murray’s mark) and an interception while rushing for 33 yards on 12 carries.
“He had a great day today, and I’m proud of him,” Conley said. “He was just slinging the ball and making checks. He really looked like Hutson Manning today.”
Mason also had to work with a limited offensive staff. Starting receiver Malcolm Mitchell was missing because of a torn meniscus in his right knee, and receiver Michael Bennett sat out as he wrapped up his recovery from a torn ACL that ended his 2012 season early.
Those on Mason’s offense – which included second-team players – took the challenge seriously.
“With the injuries we had with some of the receivers, we were really low, especially at the two position,” Mason said. “A lot of guys hadn’t gotten a lot of reps in the spring, but going into it, you could really see after that first touchdown that we put some things together, and it was awesome to see guys who don’t really get a lot of opportunities make it work.
“It’s a regular ball game. A lot of guys here are getting opportunity to show what they’re made of and we put a W on the board.”
Maybe Mason’s work ethic has kept him on Murray’s tail since arriving from Lassiter High School in Marietta, but his patience has kept him at Georgia.
If a better opportunity to become a starter had presented itself somewhere else, Mason could have transferred, and if he wanted to play immediately, he could have even left Georgia for a lower level of NCAA competition and not had to spend an additional year sitting out.
His teammates have appreciated his dedication.
“I think he’s a great quarterback because of it,” said receiver Rhett McGowan, who played on the Red team Saturday. “There’s really no difference between him and Murray a lot of the time. They’re both awesome quarterbacks, and he is patient because he’s been behind Murray his whole career. But he’ll get his chance, and when he does, he’ll take full advantage of it.”
Coaches have been quick to pile on praise for Mason’s resiliency and work ethic, but other than Richt saying the Mason has earned some opportunities for the 2013 season, his place in the offense that will roll out in the fall remains vague. And despite Saturday’s performance, Mason is unlikely to unseat Murray, so long as he remains healthy.
Mason, however, is hopeful he has earned something more than clean-up duties and said he will continue to prepare the same way he has the previous three seasons – as though the next game is his to run.
“I’m just hoping for an opportunity to show what I can do and get in some big games when it counts,” Mason said. “That’s what I’m hoping for. Whether I get that, I don’t know. But I’m just going to continue to prepare like I’m going to get it.”