Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is helped off the field late Saturday after injuring his knee during the Bulldogs’ final home game against Kentucky. Murray will need ACL surgery, ending a record-setting college career. (Reuters)
ATHENS — Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who was injured during Saturday’s 59-17 blowout win against Kentucky, will need ACL surgery on his left knee, ending a record-setting career in Athens.
Murray finishes his collegiate career as the SEC’s all-time leading passer with 13,166 yards with 121 touchdowns. The four-year starter nearly led them to a national championship in 2012, falling just short to Alabama.
Murray opted to return for his senior season instead of the NFL draft. He completed nearly 65 percent of his passes with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions, but Georgia is just 7-4 with one game left at Georgia Tech.
Murray was helped off the football field after the injury — a sight nobody in a UGA uniform had ever seen. The senior had started — and finished — 51 games in a row before starting his 52nd against Kentucky. But he didn’t finish this one.
In fact, the Bulldogs’ record-setting signal-caller didn’t even make it to halftime. A left-knee injury that he’d actually suffered 10 minutes earlier in the game finally brought him down with 2:17 remaining in the first half. UGA trainers had to lift Murray up off the field and carry him straight to the locker room, from which he would not return.
“Thank you for all the prayers over the past few hours,” Murray posted on his Twitter account early Sunday. “Gonna come back stronger than ever! Dawg for life. Truly love you all.”
That it happened on Senior Night in a season littered with devastating injuries to star players made it cruelly fitting.
“It was just sickening,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “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.”
Murray was taken from Sanford Stadium by Georgia State Patrol cruiser to St. Mary’s Hospital to undergo MRIs.
Said close friend and former roommate Arthur Lynch: “I really hate it for Aaron because there’s no one who deserves a storybook ending more than him.”
Playing his final game in Sanford Stadium — along with 27 other seniors — Murray connected with fellow senior Rhett McGowan on a 9-yard touchdown pass only one minute and four seconds into the game. By the 17-minute mark, he had four touchdown passes.
But Murray’s night took an abrupt change for the worse early in the second quarter. Murray was dragged down from behind by Kentucky’s Ashely Lowery at the end of a 28-yard run two minutes into the second quarter. He was wincing and limping noticeably, but finished the drive.
“They were telling me I was going in, but Murray waved me off,” said junior Hutson Mason, who would eventually relieve Murray. “I thought it was his back because he hurt it on the last play against Auburn, and it was bothering him before the game. But he said he was fine.”
Murray completed an 8-yard pass to Lynch for his fourth touchdown of the night and a 28-7 lead with 13:00 remaining in the first half and trotted off the field. He avoided head trainer Ron Courson, who was giving chase as he came to the sideline, and went to a stationary bike behind the Bulldogs’ bench. He returned to the field at the 6:28 mark when Georgia next got possession.
Hobbling ever so slightly, Murray again led Georgia down the field. But as his pass to the end zone was tipped and intercepted, Murray was tackled by Kentucky’s Za’Darius Smith and did not get up. Face down, Murray stayed in that position until trainers, who were quick to his side, lifted him off the ground and immediately carried him to the locker room. With his arms over the trainers’ shoulders, tears streamed down Murray’s face and his left leg never touched the ground.
“When I saw him laying on the ground and then them carrying him off, I was concerned,” senior guard Chris Burnette said after the game. “I still have no idea how bad it is, so we’ll all just praying for him right now. He’s been our leader for four years, and to not have him out there is tough.”
Mason, Murray’s heir apparent, took over, and the Bulldogs’ didn’t miss a beat. Mason led the Bulldogs on a one-minute scoring drive that ended 12 seconds before halftime with a 24-yard pass to Todd Gurley. He finished with 189 yards on 13-of-19 passing and left the game with 7:58 remaining and Georgia leading 59-10. Faton Bauta and Parker Welch also got snaps at quarterback.
Gurley finished with 167 total yards and scored two touchdowns. Lynch had two touchdowns, and Rhett McGowan caught seven passes for 90 yards and a score.
As for Murray, he became the third quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards in each of his four college seasons. His all-time SEC records now stand at: completions (921), passing yards (13,166), touchdown passes (121) and total offense (13,562). Murray moved to No. 2 on the SEC all-time list for pass attempts with 1,478 (Jared Lorenzen of Kentucky, 1,514). In addition, he tied David Greene with the most starts for a non-kicker in school history with 52, which is the most for any active NCAA player (the school record is 53 by Blair Walsh).
With the victory, the Bulldogs (7-4, 5-3 SEC) finished the conference season with a winning record. It certainly hasn’t been the season Georgia envisioned in August, but the ultimate referendum on whether it was a good year or bad year will be decided next weekend when the Bulldogs take on the Yellow Jackets.
They’ll play it without Murray for the first time in four years.
“That’s just the nature of sports,” Mason said. “You have to always be ready when your number is called. … I’ll start preparing for Tech. I’ve prepared like I was going to be the starter all year, so that’s what I’ll do again.”
The Wildcats, who were playing without several players because of suspensions, fall to 2-9 and 0-7 in the SEC.