UGa's Murray gets another shot at signature win


UGa's Murray gets another shot at signature win

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Aaron Murray manages to stay upbeat, even during the tough times.

If the Georgia quarterback is feeling any pain, he hides it well.

``Fake it until you make it, I guess,'' Murray quipped this week, managing to roust one of those familiar smiles.

While in the midst of what is shaping up to be his best season statistically, the fourth-year junior has endured plenty of setbacks - all of them, it seems, piling on about the same time.

First, there was a four-touchdown loss at South Carolina, which again denied Murray a signature win. Then, he returned to Athens to find the rented home he shares with teammates had been egged and covered in toilet paper, apparently by irate fans. Finally, the worst news of all: His father had been diagnosed with cancer.

``Probably the worst 12 hours of my life,'' Murray tweeted at the time.

He hustled off to Tampa, Fla., to be with his dad, who had surgery and is doing well. Then, after getting stopped for speeding on his way back to Georgia (of course!), it was time for Murray to put all his personal issues aside.

``As the quarterback, I've got to make sure I have a high energy level no matter what is going on in my life,'' he said. ``I've got to make sure I go out there every day in practice and run around, yelling and screaming and having fun. I've got to make sure that my guys see I'm ready to go.''

On Saturday, Murray will get another chance to fill the biggest hole in an otherwise impressive resume when the No. 12 Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) face third-ranked Florida (7-0, 6-0) in Jacksonville.

Despite his gaudy numbers - which include more than 8,000 yards passing and a school-record 75 touchdowns - Murray has yet to lead Georgia to a victory over a top-10 opponent.

He shrugs off any attempt to make that shortcoming into something personal.

``I don't even think about it really,'' said Murray, who has completed more than 65 percent of his passes this season for 1,914 yards, with 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions. ``It's a team game. I'm not playing Florida or any top team all by myself.''

But offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, a former Georgia quarterback himself, knows how much this game means to Murray.

The stakes couldn't be any higher. Florida can clinch the SEC East with a victory, but the Bulldogs would be in prime position for a second straight trip to the league championship game if they can knock off the Gators.

``There's no doubt that he wants to win a game like this, against a team that's going to help us reach our goal and put us one step closer to hopefully going back to Atlanta,'' Bobo said.

Certainly, Murray wants to avoid a repeat of the South Carolina debacle. In perhaps the worst game of his college career, Murray completed just 11 of 31 passes for 109 yards as the Gamecocks romped to a 35-7 victory.

If Murray can put together a more typical performance against Florida, it might give the Bulldogs a solid chance of pulling off the upset. The Gators have been beating teams with run-dominated offense, stifling defense and remarkable play out of the special teams. Jeff Driskel has done a solid job, but quarterback is the one position where Georgia appears to have a significant advantage.

``He's very quick with his decision making,'' Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins said. ``You can tell he understands coverages. He can pick you apart - to the field, to the boundary - it doesn't really matter. He can do everything. This week we can't say, `This quarterback can't make this throw, can't make that throw.' He can make everything.''

Murray has faced the Gators twice before. As a redshirt freshman, he was picked off in overtime, leading to Florida's winning field goal. Last season, the Bulldogs rallied from a two-touchdown deficit, scoring twice on fourth-down plays to pull out a 24-20 triumph.

Looking back on what went wrong that dreadful night in South Carolina, Murray believes he set the bar so high, there was no way he could reach it. He was looking for perfection. All he got was misery.

This time, he just needs to trust himself.

``We don't have to be perfect,'' Bobo said. ``We're going to punt. We might get sacked a couple of times. We might throw a bad ball. They might even pick the ball off. But we've just got to keep playing.''

Beyond the impressive stats, Murray has tried to become a more outspoken leader. It's really not in his nature to get in a teammate's face. He prefers to lead by example, to inspire others through hard work on the practice field, through extra hours in the film room.

That's not always enough.

``There's instances where I needed to be more demanding and vocal,'' Murray said. ``That's me maturing this season and understanding my role as one of the leaders of the team. I've got to make sure guys are holding each other accountable and doing the right things at all times.''

Murray bounced back with a vengeance last week at Kentucky, throwing for a career-high 427 yards and four touchdowns, a gutty performance that allowed the Bulldogs escape with a closer-than-expected 29-24 victory and earned the SEC offensive player of the week award.

Impressive, to be sure, but not the sort of win that will solidify Murray's standing as one of the great quarterbacks in Georgia history.

Beating Florida would do just that.

``I believe in Aaron Murray. I think our whole team believes in Aaron Murray,'' Bobo said. ``Aaron Murray has got to believe in himself this week.''


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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What exactly did the Orioles get in return for Manny Machado?

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What exactly did the Orioles get in return for Manny Machado?

So, the Orioles made some headlines earlier this week. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but minor league pitcher Asher Wojciechowski exercised his opt-out clause and is no longer with the organization. Please keep Orioles fans in your thoughts during this trying time.

As everyone reading this is undoubtedly already aware, the Orioles *also* made a trade yesterday, sending 26-year old superstar Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In return for their once-in-a-lifetime talent, the Orioles received a whopping five prospects from the Dodgers’ minor league system.

Yusniel Diaz, OF, 21

It’s fitting that this trade is being compared to the Erik Bedard trade, which was also a five-for-one, because Diaz could be a poor man’s Adam Jones. He’s not the prospect Jones was, but he could end up being a really nice player.

Talent evaluators are split on his ultimate ceiling. Some describe him as a bona fide stud, and others leave him off their top 100 lists. I’ve seen him ranked as high as 31st overall (by Baseball Prospectus), which, if accurate, is a terrific main piece in a package for a star rental. 

Most consider Diaz’s main flaw as a prospect to be his in-game power, though anyone watching the 2018 MLB Futures Game would be confused by that, as he became the second player ever to hit multiple home runs in the game. It’s possible that more power develops as he matures, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first player to hit for more power once reaching the Majors, but for now, it’s not a strength. I wouldn’t expect him to top 20 home runs in most seasons.

His bat-to-ball ability is his clearest strength, as he projects to consistently hit for a high average. His batting eye, while formerly a weakness, has become a strength in 2018, as he’s actually walked more times than he’s struck out (a rarity in this day and age). That will play well with O’s fans who are tired of seeing their players challenge strikeout records.

Dean Kremer, RHP, 22

Kremer isn’t a major name, which is a disappointment for O’s fans and one of the reasons their haul felt so uninspiring. Compared to more highly-touted prospects like Dustin May, Kremer looks like the team settled.

That said, he’s currently sporting the best K/9 ratio in the minors, and could end up being a diamond in the rough. He’s come a long way since being a 14th-round pick two years ago, and you have to wonder if the Orioles’ much-maligned pitching development can pick up where the much more successful Dodgers instructors left off.

Kremer is also notable for being the first Israeli-born player ever drafted in Major League Baseball.

Rylan Bannon, IF, 22

Bannon was an 8th-rounder last year and is having somewhat of a breakout this season. He’s leading the league in home runs, though playing in a notorious band box of a home park is skewing those numbers.

Bannon is undersized, but has a reputation of a good, if not elite, fielder. He’s a third baseman, but will likely spend some time at second as well. If the power breakout is real, he could end up a solid starter for the Orioles down the road. Again, that’s about all you can hope for in trades of this nature.

Zach Pop, RHP, 21

Pop has been described as potentially a future “right-handed Zach Britton,” which every O’s fan would take in a heartbeat. Of course, he’s not ranked like a future All-Star, as even in the weaker Orioles farm system he’s likely no better than around 25th. 

Still, the filler players in big trades like this are just lottery tickets, and considering his lack of pedigree, Pop seems like a relatively “safe” pitcher with projectability. He strikes out a lot of batters and gets a lot of ground balls, and at the very least can likely become a decent middle reliever.

Breyvic Valera, IF, 26

In a best-case scenario, Valera becomes the Orioles’ Ryan Flaherty replacement. If you squint, you can see somewhat decent upside in each of the other returning players, even despite their modest prospect rankings, but Valera is a clear utility player. 

He gets on base and hits for contact well enough to stick around and has proven capable of defending multiple positions, so there actually might be a spot for him at the end of the Orioles bench.


This trade has been described as anywhere from adequate and somewhat deflating to a great haul O’s fans should be excited about. Four of the five players have decent ceilings, though the chance of all four (or even just two of them) reaching those ceilings is highly unlikely. It’s just the nature of baseball.

Ultimately, this trade will be judged on the success or failure of Yusniel Diaz, who is the clear centerpiece of the package. Whether or not he succeeds will be partially up to him, and partially up to the front office and player development team.

If this trade is the beginning of the core for the next competitive Orioles team, then it’ll have to be considered a success. If these players each bust out of the league, then it was still the correct decision to trade Machado instead of settling for draft pick compensation, but it will still sting all the more for O’s fans seeing Manny soar to new heights elsewhere.

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Capitals re-sign Madison Bowey leaving Tom Wilson the lone remaining RFA


Capitals re-sign Madison Bowey leaving Tom Wilson the lone remaining RFA

Defenseman Madison Bowey re-signed with the Capitals on Thursday, inking a two-year extension that will carry an average of $1 million.

Bowey carried a cap charge of $703,333 last season.

The 23-year-old appeared in 51 games for the Caps in 2017-18, amassing 12 assists, 24 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of minus-3.

Bowey also suited up in nine contests for AHL Hershey, though he finished the season as one of the Black Aces during Washington's run to the Stanley Cup.

With Bowey back in the fold, the Caps now have six of seven defenseman from last season’s roster under contract. (Veteran Brooks Orpik remains an unrestricted free agent.)

Bowey had an uneven first year in the NHL—he didn’t play following the late-February addition of Michal Kempny—but the Caps expect that the 6-2, 198-pound right-shot blue liner will become reliable full-time player with more seasoning.

Bowey’s deal leaves Tom Wilson as the Caps' only remaining unsigned restricted free agent. The sides are in discussions on a multi-year extension.

Including Bowey’s extension, the Caps have roughly $7.3 million in salary cap space remaining, according to www.capfriendly.com.