The future of Georgia football at quarterback arrived a bit earlier than any of us expected Saturday night at Sanford Stadium as the latest player to go down in an injury-plagued season was the seemingly indestructible Aaron Murray.
Having already injured his left knee earlier in the second quarter on a 29-yard QB keeper, Murray refused to be taken out of the game and continued to play, though it was obvious something was wrong. Then, on an interception resulting from a tipped ball, Kentucky defensive end Za’Darius Smith hit him (perhaps a tad late) and Murray didn’t get back up.
He wound up being taken to Athens’ St. Mary’s Hospital for an MRI, the results of which had not yet been announced at this writing, though Coach Mark Richt indicated it was unlikely Murray would be able to play in next week’s game against Georgia Tech.
Watching him carried off the field by two Georgia trainers and straight to the locker room was a sight that no doubt sickened UGA fans but also should have upset any college football fan who appreciates the courageous way Murray has played in his four years as a Dawg. He has the heart of a lion and literally had to be dragged off the field.
Starting his 52nd game as the Bulldogs’ quarterback on a Senior Night that had seen him choke up after being given an extended pre-game standing ovation by the Sanford Stadium crowd that was mostly dressed in black in his honor, Murray had gotten off to a blistering start in a game in which Georgia uncharacteristically took the ball when it won the toss and scored a minute and 4 seconds into the proceedings.
(Richt may not have been able to fulfull the wishes of Murray and Georgia fans to let the Dogs play the season’s final home game in black jerseys, but he obviously wanted his team to shake off last week’s last-minute Auburn loss by coming out with guns-a-blazing.)
In his last game before the home fans, Murray (18-for-23, 183 yards in less than two quarters) already had thrown four touchdown strikes and had broken the 3,000-yard passing mark for the fourth consecutive season before he went down — the only SEC quarterback ever to do that and one of only four NCAA QBs who have that singular distinction.
Hutson Mason, the heir apparent for next season who had waited not-always-patiently for his turn behind Murray, came in with 2:17 left in the first half and did a fine job, completing 13 of 19 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown and sneaking for another. He seemed cool and confident and continued to show a nice touch on the ball, although his relative lack of experience still showed up on a couple of rough plays and he doesn’t quite have Murray’s arm strength.
But while UGA fans can feel fairly confident going into the Tech game with Mason at quarterback, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to step fully into the mighty big shoes of Mr. Two Minute Drill, Murray. Let’s hope he’s up to it.
It’s worth noting that Murray hit the 3,000-yard mark exactly on a 16-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tailback Todd Gurley, who ended up pulling a “Knowshon” with a Superman-like leap to break the plane of the goal with the ball in one hand.
Overall, it was another productive night for the remarkable Gurley, who played sparingly in the second half but ran for 77 yards on eight carries (a 9.6-yard average) and continued to make himself a force in the passing game, catching five balls for 90 yards and two touchdowns (including a 24-yarder from Mason near the end of the first half).
The two Bulldog QBs spread the ball around, with 11 different Georgia players catching passes, led by Rhett McGowan, who pulled in seven for 90 yards and a touchdown and senior tight end Artie Lynch, who caught four for 42 yards and two TDs.
Defensively, Georgia mostly played its most consistent game in weeks, recovering three Kentucky fumbles. Only on a 69-yard touchdown run on which the Wildcats’ Dyshawn Mobley shot right up the middle on a third-and-1 play did the Bulldog defenders look really bad.
Otherwise, the downside of the game for Georgia was another epic fail on the part of the special teams when the Dogs muffed a punt reception that Kentucky ultimately turned into 3 points.
Still, it was a fine night for Georgia’s offense, which racked up 602 yards on 82 plays in a 59-17 win that wasn’t as close as that (the Wildcats scored one last touchdown in garbage time against Bulldog third-stringers). It was the most points Georgia had scored against the Wildcats since a 62-17 win in Lexington in 2004 as well as the most in any SEC game since that contest. Georgia’s 59 points was the most scored by the Bulldogs since a 63-16 win over New Mexico State in 2011.
Nevertheless, it was difficult to fully enjoy the romp over the Wildcats knowing that Murray’s UGA career may well have come to an anguished end on that play that left him crumpled on the field.
As Richt said afterward, “I really had a hard time enjoying the rest of the game. … Even right now, I’m glad we won, but I really feel crummy thinking about Aaron.”
Me, too, Coach.
Feel free to share your own thoughts on the game and what the loss of Murray might mean for the remainder of the Dogs’ season.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg