More and more, Aaron Murray's confidence in freshman wide receiver Chris Conley continues to grow.
Late in the game last week against Florida and facing a second-and-9 at the Gator 36, Georgia needed one more first down to effectively ice last week's 24-20 victory over the Gators.
So, following a timeout, when it came time to make a play, Conley did just that, taking advantage of single coverage by the Gators to make an outstanding grab for an 18-yard gain, a play that enabled Georgia to run out the clock.
"I'm proud of the play. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to make a play like that. I'm glad that Coach (Mike) Bobo trusted me enough to give me a chance, but really when you look back it was just one play in the many plays of a football game," Conley said. "It was just a back-shoulder fade, and I sort of instinctively just stopped and went up for it. It's something that you work on constantly, and it gets to the point that it's second nature. Hopefully, there will be many more to come and that's what I have to work for."
Conley doesn't appear to have to worry about that.
With Malcolm Mitchell out with a hamstring injury, Conley has stepped in and performed more than admirably, catching three balls for 38 yards against Florida, while continuing to gain favor in the eyes of his teammates and coaches.
Putting his best foot forward has always been Conley's way. His parents would not have allowed him to do otherwise.
"I tell you, I think the progress that you can visibly see is due to the way he was raised. His family raised him to be accountable, to be diligent in his effort and to be the very best he can be. That's how he was raised," wide receivers coach Tony Ball said. "That's how he has carried himself from Day 1 and to me that's the biggest key to his success."
Even when Mitchell returns, Conley has shown enough to guarantee himself an integral role within Georgia's receiving corps moving forward.
"He's progressed a great deal. He's a very intelligent young man. He can process a great deal of information, and like I said, he's matured enough when he's asked to learn an assignment, he learns it, to work on a fundamental aspect of it, he works on it till he's got it," Ball said. "It doesn't surprise me about what he's doing. He's still got a long way to go, but he is taking the right approach."
Conley also played a role in one of the game's key moments during Georgia's eventual game-winning drive.
Facing a third-and-10, Murray looked for Conley, who although he did not make the catch, was interfered with by Florida free safety Jaylen Watkins giving Georgia a first down at the 20. Four plays later, Richard Samuel bulled his way over from the 4 putting the Bulldogs up 24-20 early in the fourth.
Ironically, it was the same play Conley was able to convert later in the quarter that enabled the Bulldogs to run out the clock.
"I think Aaron has his choice of which side he wants to go to. We had previously talked and I told him we had been beating them deep outside," Conley said. "So, Aaron kept coming up to me on the sideline asking 'Are you open, are you open?' I said yeah, yeah, he was like, OK, I've got to hit you. He actually tried to hit me one of those plays before but he was a little rushed and that's when we got the pass interference, but he gave me another shot, he trusted me and the play worked out."
Murray is not surprised to see Conley have the success he's starting to have.
"The kid worked extremely hard in the off-season, learned the playbook. I would work with the incoming freshmen and since he graduated early, I would work with them and he'd be right out there with them, learning the footwork," Murray said. "He's a true student of the game and understanding what he needs to do. Out there running routes he's really done a great job, really sticking it, coming back to the ball and using his hands. The biggest thing a lot of receivers do is they let the ball come to them. He does a good job of extending his hands and not letting the DB come over and knock it away."
Of course, Conley isn't the only receiver to have stepped up in recent weeks since Mitchell went out in the second half against Tennessee.
Redshirt freshman Michael Bennett continues to impress with some clutch receptions of his own, while veterans Tavarres King and Marlon Brown have made big plays in recent weeks as well.
Although Conley said he'll certainly be happy when Mitchell is able to get back on the field, he's taken considerable pride knowing that he and the rest of Georgia's receivers have stepped up when many questioned whether they would.
"All the guys were sort of upset that when Malcolm was out, that there was a big fear our passing game was going to drop off. We think that our receiving corps is very talented and each of the guys has different attributes, so that when Malcolm was not able to go, we felt like we had other guys who would be able to step up and contribute," he said. "It's a competitive love with each of the guys. We love each of the guys, we all have different things to contribute, but at the same time we want to be better than each other and it pushes us."
Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]