Bulldogs Mason gets first start at QB

With Murray out for season, Georgia has confidence in junior

Georgia’s Hutson Mason (14) passes against Kentucky during the second half at Sanford Stadium on Saturday. With Aaron Murray out for the season, Mason will get his first start at quarterback. (Reuters)

Georgia’s Hutson Mason (14) passes against Kentucky during the second half at Sanford Stadium on Saturday. With Aaron Murray out for the season, Mason will get his first start at quarterback. (Reuters)

ATHENS — Twenty-four hours after it was learned that Georgia’s seemingly indestructible quarterback, Aaron Murray, was indeed going to be sidelined the rest of the year, the Bulldogs were grasping for all the positives they could find.

And there are some, according to Georgia coach Mark Richt, who said Sunday evening he was “feeling a lot better” after exchanging several text messages with Murray about his college career being over two games too soon.

“You didn’t want that to happen, not under this circumstance, but you knew you weren’t going to have many more games with Aaron,” Richt said. “He’s basically saying, ‘Hey, let’s get back to work and get this thing done.’ He’s not going to mope around and cry.

“He was certainly initially heartbroken by it. But after he realized what the deal was and what was going to have to happen and what he needed to do to get back where he could play again, he was already kind of getting geared up for that challenge.”

MRIs taken at St. Mary’s Hospital on Saturday night revealed Georgia’s record-setting quarterback had suffered a “clean tear” of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Kentucky. Richt said indications are that it was a non-contact injury which occurred when Murray made a sudden change of direction and cut upfield on a 28-yard run on the first play of the second quarter.

Murray knew he was hurt, Richt said, but he continued to play and didn’t leave the game until the pain became unbearable. That did not occur until the 2:17 mark when Murray was spun and thrown to the ground by Kentucky defensive end Za’Darius Smith. Murray’s last play as a Bulldog was an interception that tipped off the hands of receiver Rhett McGowan.

“We were going to get him out because you could tell something was going on,” Richt said. “But he just refused. I think he kind of knew. He knew something happened but he didn’t know what. He’s a competitor and he wants to play. I told him he was out and he said, ‘No way.’ I said well you better tell your coach (offensive coordinator Mike Bobo). He had him run around a little bit and show he could still move well. … So we put him back in.”

Murray is scheduled to undergo surgery on Tuesday, according to a Facebook post from his mother, Lauren Murray. He will begin rehab shortly after that but won’t be fully recovered until after next April’s NFL draft.

Nevertheless, Richt said he’s confident Murray will be drafted.

“There wasn’t major damage, just the ACL,” Richt said. “Those tend to heal very well and rehabs go well. Look at Marlon Brown just last year. Michael Bennett is playing full speed, Adrian Peterson, any of those guys. It’s a surgery that’s quite common and it’s very common for everybody get back to full speed.”

In the meantime, there is the very important matter of playing Georgia Tech on Saturday. The Bulldogs will turn to Hutson Mason to run the offense, which he did to good effect for the last 31:05 of the Kentucky game.

The junior from Marietta threw for 189 yards and a touchdown on 13-of-19 passing as Murray’s fill-in. He has long been considered Murray’s unquestioned successor. Richt said that is one of the silver linings to Murray’s injury. The Bulldogs will be able hasten the transition to Mason and let him gain some experience before next season.

“It’ll be nice that his first start is not the first game of next year,” said Richt, referring to next season’s opener at home against Clemson. “I think that will be good. Anytime there’s a first of anything, you’d like to get it out of the way if you can. As it turns out, we’re not happy for the circumstance in which it happened, but because he will have a couple of starts under his belt, it will be helpful going into next season.”

That said, Richt knows the Bulldogs are facing far more uncertainty heading into the Georgia Tech game than they would if Murray was still at the controls.

“Well, he was the most prolific passer in the history of the Southeastern Conference, so I think when you lose a guy like that, it doesn’t help your chances,” Richt said. “But we do have faith and confidence that Hutson will do a good job.”

As for Mason’s backup, Richt said the Bulldogs would go with redshirt freshman Faton Bauta of West Palm Beach, Fla. Bauta was able to get in for the end of the Kentucky game, running the ball twice for 22 yards. He also played briefly at the end of the Appalachian State game. He has yet to attempt a pass in his career.