Saturday evening at Sanford Stadium featured the Bulldogs’ most productive offensive outing of the season in a 59-17 victory over Kentucky, but it was not without heartbreak, as Georgia lost its veteran starting quarterback, Aaron Murray, to a season-ending ACL injury in his left knee.
Murray concludes his career at Georgia as one of the most prolific players ever to wear the Red and Black. The Tampa, Florida, native owns the SEC record for most career touchdown passes with 121, in addition to ranking first all-time in SEC history in total offense (13,562 yards) and total career passing yards (13,166).
A strong performer in the classroom as well as on the field, Murray was the only player in the SEC to be named a recipient of the National Football Foundation (NFF) Scholar-Athlete Award. The senior quarterback also earned Capital One Academic All-District honors for the third time in his career.
“That part is sad, but you knew it was coming relatively soon,” said Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt on Sunday evening when discussing Murray’s injury. “You didn’t want it to happen under this circumstance, but you were kind of getting used to the idea that you weren’t going to have many more games with Aaron.”
“I’m feeling a little better now because I actually exchanged some texts with Aaron and he’s basically saying, ‘Hey, let’s get back to work. Let’s get this thing done and let’s get to work.’ He’s not going to mope around and cry,” added Richt. “He certainly, initially, was heartbroken by it, but after he realized what the deal was and what was going to have to happen…he’s already kind of getting geared up for that challenge.”
Richt acknowledged Murray’s toughness and determination after the injury occurred, as the starting quarterback did not want to be removed from the game and actually continued playing before finally exiting the game.
“It was a zone-read type play. He pulled the ball and ran. It was the longest run that he had of the day,” described Richt about the play on which Murray was injured. “When he tried to cut back inside of a defender, he could have just run straight out of bounds, but he decided to turn and make a right-hand turn to try to get more yards, and as he was changing direction, that’s when it happened.”
“He played the rest of the drive, and then we were going to get him out because you could tell something was going on, but he just refused,” said Richt. “I think he kind of knew. He knew something happened, but he didn’t know what, and he’s a competitor. He wants to play.”
Further examinations on Sunday morning confirmed Murray’s ACL tear, but Richt remains optimistic about Murray’s return to football in the future, particularly due to the fact that the injury did not also include any damage to cartilage or surrounding bone.
“When the MRI was done, the only injury that he sustained was an ACL injury,” said Richt. “It’s not like he added cartilage damage or bone chips – nothing like that. From what I understand, it was his ACL, so it was pretty clean in that regard. It was a non-contact injury resulting from a change in direction, and that’s when it happened.”
The Bulldogs will now move forward with redshirt junior quarterback Hutson Mason, who filled in for the injured Murray in the remainder of the game against Kentucky, going 13-for-19 for 189 yards and a both a passing and rushing touchdown.
“He’s been through a lot of games and a lot of game plans,” said Richt about Mason. “He’s gone through the mental process of watching game film afterwards. Obviously, he’s played a little bit here and there along the way, so he does have experience, but as far as being a starter, this will be his first start (against Georgia Tech). I’m sure there will be some excitement. I’m sure he’s not really wanting to have it in this circumstance, but he knows he’s ready, and I’m sure he’ll do a good job preparing like he always does.”
Although Mason will be starting for the first time of his career on Saturday when the Bulldogs travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech, Richt notes that the game preparations will be very similar to those that would have been designed for Murray.
“I don’t think there will be much change. We certainly aren’t going to make up a bunch of new plays,” said Richt. “Whatever has been in our arsenal will be the types of plays we’ll be repping and playing and calling. Hutson’s style of play is not too different from Aaron. He’s going to be a great decision maker for us and will get us in the right plays.”
“He’s going to do his best to get the ball to the receivers that we have, and the tight ends and backs,” continued Richt. “From time to time, there will be a scramble or maybe a zone read where he pulls the ball and runs it every once in awhile. I would say the game plan would be very much the same.”
Richt also pointed out that redshirt freshman quarterback Faton Bauta will now move into the backup role behind Mason.
“Faton would be our number two right now, and I think he would be ready,” said Richt. “I think he’s a guy that has certainly worked hard to learn what to do. We certainly could run a good bit of our offense…We could run a good bit of it…He definitely could get us through the game.”
One additional injury of note from Saturday’s game was starting defensive end Sterling Bailey. The redshirt sophomore out of Gainesville, Ga., came out of halftime on crutches, and Richt confirmed the injury to be an ankle sprain.
“I think he is questionable for the game, meaning we think he has a chance, and hopefully he will,” said Richt. “I’m not sure if he’ll practice tomorrow, but we think he’ll be able to play. We’re pretty sure. We’re not 100 percent, but we’re pretty sure.”
Georgia will face in-state rival Georgia Tech on Saturday in Atlanta with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ABC.