In hindsight, Mike Bobo’s words are somewhat ironic.
Leading up to Aaron Murray’s final game in Sanford Stadium, Georgia’s offensive coordinator had some pragmatic thoughts for his senior quarterback – thoughts meant to keep everything in perspective amid the emotional buildup to senior night.
“This is what I told him Monday,” Bobo said, “You’re not dead. I’m not hugging you ’til after this season. We’ve got to beat Kentucky.”
The Bulldogs (7-4, 5-3) beat Kentucky.
In fact, they posted a 59-17 rout of the struggling Wildcats (2-9, 0-7 SEC) in which Murray completed 18 of 23 passes for 183 yards and four first-half touchdowns.
But then, in the second quarter of that game, he sustained a left knee injury, after which the UGA medical staff sent him to St. Mary’s Hospital for an MRI. Murray will undergo surgery Tuesday to repair a torn left anterior cruciate ligament and will not return to the field as a Bulldog.
“He got hurt on the [28-yard] run,” Bobo said. “He said he was fine and wanted to go. I tried to put Hutson [Mason] in, basically [Murray] wouldn’t let me. He said I’m fine, I’m playing. I said I need to see you moving around out there and he moved around pretty good.”
Murray continued to play for the remainder of the second quarter, until his pass was intercepted at the Kentucky 2-yard line and his knee was injured on the play with 2:17 left in the half.
Handed a comfy 28-10 lead, backup quarterback Hutson Mason filled in for Murray and performed admirably, going 13-for-19 as a passer for 189 yards and a touchdown.
But even Mason admitted that his feelings on the entire situation were difficult to pinpoint: his happiness at the chance to play had been inevitably bogged down by the sadness of seeing a senior go down on senior night.
“It’s like a fairy-tale gone wrong for Murray,” Mason said. “You hate for something to end like that on senior night at home at the end of the season. You know, he’s about to start training for the draft. It’s very tough because I know how hard he works. I’ll call him, see how he’s doing. Right now I’m just waiting to hear what the injury is, will I be playing next week.”
Indeed, the sight of the team’s emotional leader – its Cal Ripken-esque worker at the quarterback position – painfully wincing all the way way into the locker was an unsettling sight for those present at Sanford Stadium. The exit cast an undeniable shadow on an otherwise joyful night for the UGA football team that became difficult for even his head coach to shake off.
“It’s just sickening. I really had a hard time enjoying the rest of the game,” Richt said. “It just was hard to have a lot of fun. I’m glad we won and I’m glad we played the way we did but it’s just a crummy feeling right now when you think about what Aaron’s going through.”
Murray was never the sort of quarterback to let injury keep him out of a game. That trait even extended back into his high school days.
“He broke his leg, missed a few games and came back, won a state championship,” offensive lineman Chris Burnette said. “I know he’s always been a tough guy."
But in the waning weeks of his college career, Murray's streak of games started - his ability to remain a consistent, dependable pillar of Georgia's offense - has ended.
“It’s almost jaw-dropping because a guy made it this far in his career. 50-something starts, broke all the records. You’d think at least it’s going to be smooth sailing for him as bad as things have gone for us this year. He’s the one guy who’s proven his career that he can take the hard hit," Mason said. "Just seeing him hobble off the field, I don’t know if there was a word for it. Just wow.”
Georgia’s 2013 season has been ultimately defined by its injuries – relentless in sheer number and unforgiving in nature. In a way, the year is not all that dissimilar to the type of attack Georgia Tech will could bring against an emotionally battered group of Bulldogs next week.
Richt could not say whether the loss of Murray will make the upcoming game against the Yellow Jackets tougher from a mental standpoint.
“I think it’s good to have momentum going into that game," Richt said. "If the spirits of your team is down and you go play that game, it’s a tough game to win. The offense that they run, they’re kind of relentless in how they attack. If your spirits not into it and you’re not excited about playing that game, you can have a rough, long day. And even if you are ready to play, you can have a long day.”
One fact from Saturday’s win is certain: Murray will be missed.
“No one deserves a perfect ending like he does,” tight end Arthur Lynch said. “To see him go down like that is tough. He would want us to finish the game strong, so I know he’s proud of that.”
“He’s a tough kid. Just honored to be able to coach him and get to know him the last five years,” Bobo said.