Friday February 12th, 2016 2:49AM

Mason set to take over for Murray as Georgia's QB

By The Associated Press
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ATHENS -- Hutson Mason's long-awaited first start against Georgia Tech on Saturday will show if the junior can handle the pressure of being Georgia's quarterback.

At least coach Mark Richt believes it will.

One thing is certain, Mason definitely had plenty of time to prepare for the opportunity.

Mason, who was redshirted in 2012, waited four years as Aaron Murray made 52 consecutive starts. Mason's patience was tested but he stuck with Georgia when he twice thought about transferring to another school.

Mason said Tuesday he is "as prepared as I ever could be."

Following Murray's season-ending knee injury last week against Kentucky, Mason's time has come. No one is viewing his first start as an audition.

"It's his team for the rest of this year and next year," said receiver Michael Bennett.

Murray, popular with teammates and fans and successful on the field, won't be easy to replace. He became the Southeastern Conference's all-time leader in yards passing, touchdown passes, total offense and completions. He is the first quarterback in SEC history to pass for at least 3,000 yards in four seasons, and he was on pace for perhaps the most productive game of his career before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Murray completed 18 of 23 passes for 183 yards with four touchdowns in the 59-17 win over Kentucky. He needed help leaving the field with 2:17 remaining in the first half.

It was not the way the Bulldogs wanted to see Murray leave in his final game at Sanford Stadium.

"It's unfortunate the way it happened," Mason said. "Sports are cruel but also can teach a lot of life lessons and that's what I've learned in my four years."

Murray had surgery on Tuesday to repair the ligament. His family said the surgery went well.

Mason was sharp after taking over for Murray last week. He completed 13 of 19 passes for 189 yards with one touchdown.

That performance came in a reserve role when the Bulldogs already had a big lead. This week is different. His first start comes on the road in Georgia's state rivalry game.

"Now he's the guy," Richt said. "That's a new experience for him. He probably had a pretty good idea in the middle of the Kentucky game that he may be playing for the rest of the year, but this is the first time that he's had a whole week to prepare.

"People ask me what I look for in a quarterback: Is he an accurate passer? Is he a good decision-maker? Can he handle the pressure of the job? Well, we're about to find out if he can handle the pressure of the job."

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said he is not expecting the Georgia offense to change with Mason as the starter.

"Clearly he's a talented guy," Johnson said Tuesday. "I don't think it will change a lot of what they do. He's been in the program with them four years, so it's an opportunity for him to showcase what he can do. We don't expect that anything much is going to change with him in there. We've got respect for him even though he hasn't played a lot."

Richt has compared the passing style of Mason (6-3, 202) to former Georgia starter David Greene. Greene didn't have the arm strength of Matthew Stafford, another former Georgia star who now starts in the NFL for Detroit, but Richt said the left-hander threw "very catchable" passes. Richt said Mason has a similar touch on his passes.

"He's a guy who anticipates very well," said Richt of Mason. "He'll throw the ball sooner maybe than some quarterbacks will."

Bennett said Mason "has got a little bit weaker arm" than Murray.

"But he does a great job of getting it to the guys quicker to make up for maybe his weaker balls," Bennett said.

Receiver Chris Conley said players are "not really fretting at all" about Mason's first start.

"Everyone is actually extremely calm, and there's no difference in the way that the offense is being run," Conley said. "There are no differences in the plays that we're running. Hutson is executing at the same level that Murray did, just because he's been in the system for so long."

Conley said Mason brings "fearlessness" to the huddle.

"It's really a go-getter attitude that he has," Conley said. "He doesn't beat himself up about mistakes. He wants to move forward, and I think that fact makes him the kind of quarterback who won't have those jitters. He may feel them, but I think that his ambition overrides that."
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