The biggest question facing the 2014 Georgia Bulldogs just got asked a little earlier.
How will Georgia fare when quarterback Aaron Murray is gone?
Murray's college career came to an undesired close when the 6-foot-1, 208-pounder tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in the second quarter of Saturday night's 59-17 rout of Kentucky. Georgia announced Murray's injury Sunday morning, adding that he would undergo surgery this week.
"I actually exchanged some texts with Aaron, and he's basically just wanting to get back to work." Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday afternoon. "He wants to get this thing done, and he's not going to mope around and cry. He was heartbroken initially, but after he realized what the deal was as far as some surgery and what he needed to do to get back to playing again, I think he got geared up for that challenge."
Richt said that there was no damage to his knee except the ACL, and he is confident Murray will get drafted.
Murray finishes his career with a 35-17 mark as a starter and with Southeastern Conference career records in passing yards (13,166), total yards (13,562), completions (921) and passing touchdowns (121). He certainly finished with a flurry, leading the Bulldogs to 48 points in his final three quarters of action.
Taking over for Murray will be redshirt junior Hutson Mason, who filled in admirably against the Wildcats, completing 13 of 19 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown.
"I think the whole team is confident in him," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Saturday night. "He's been preparing for four years now for his moment, and his moment is just coming a little earlier than we thought it might. I know he's ready, and I know everybody believes in him."
A 6-foot-3, 202-pounder from Marietta, Mason played in four games as a freshman in 2010 and four more as a sophomore. He elected to redshirt last season in order to have a full year of playing time once Murray departed, and he would have had two years to start had Murray elected in January to turn pro.
Mason entered Saturday having only played this season in comfortable victories over North Texas and Appalachian State.
"This year, there have been so many close games, and we thought we would have played him more by now," Richt said. "Every game has been so close, and it's just been hard to make a substitution. As a second-team quarterback, you kind of lead your life in a state of readiness. You're ready to be the starter, but sometimes you don't even get in the game.
Said Mason: "Throughout the years I've just prepared, and I've been behind a guy who's probably the greatest UGA quarterback of all-time."
Georgia's No. 2 quarterback is now Faton Bauta, a 6-3, 216-pound redshirt freshman from West Palm Beach.
Richt said after the game that it was "sickening" to watch Murray go down. Murray sustained the injury on a 28-yard carry to Kentucky's 20-yard line early in the second quarter and threw an 8-yard touchdown to tight end Arthur Lynch three plays later to put the Bulldogs up 28-7.
Coaches noticed Murray limping and opted to put in Mason, but Murray convinced Bobo that he was fine and went back out on the field with 6:28 before halftime. Murray drove the Bulldogs 62 yards in 10 plays but was hobbling after getting them inside Kentucky's 10-yard line, and his lack of mobility helped result in his final pass attempt being an interception.
When asked if he changed the offense once Murray went down, Bobo said, "We were really spread the whole night, and we felt spreading them out was the way to go. When Hutson's in there, he's a little more of a spread guy."
Georgia will conclude its regular season this week at Georgia Tech, a game that will be televised by ABC with a 3:30 kickoff. It will mark the first game Murray hasn't started for the Bulldogs since they won the 2009 Independence Bowl with Joe Cox at the helm.
"I'm excited," Mason said. "This is what I came to Georgia for. Obviously it's a shame that it had to come with an injury, but the sad thing is, that's just the nature of the game. That's the nature of sports, and when one guy goes down, the next guy has to be ready.
"There definitely will be more kick in my step this week."
Odds and ends
Of the ACL injuries Georgia has suffered this season, Richt said Malcolm Mitchell's was the result of jumping in celebration, Keith Marshall's was the result of getting hit and that Murray and Justin Scott-Wesley sustained theirs by changing direction. ... Richt compared Mason to David Greene in terms of how he throws the ball. ... Defensive end Sterling Bailey (ankle) is questionable for Saturday, but Richt believes he will play.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...