With nerves running high as dozens of seniors took the field at Sanford Stadium for the final time, the Georgia Bulldogs (7-4, 5-3 SEC) were able to maintain their poise and emotions in a 59-17 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats (2-9, 0-9 SEC).
The stands of Sanford Stadium appeared darker than usual after the UGA Senior Class called for a “blackout” earlier in the week in honor of Saturday’s Senior Night, the final home game of the 2013 regular season.
Despite, last week’s heart-wrenching 43-38 debacle of a loss to No. 9 Auburn after a fourth quarter comeback, Georgia hoped to send off its record-breaking quarterback, Aaron Murray, and the 27 other seniors the right way at their last game “between the hedges.”
“He just knows where to go with the ball at all times and is a great leader and on top of that, he’s got a very strong arm and a very accurate passer,” Kentucky defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said of Murray prior to the game. “I’d say the biggest thing about him is he’s just so intelligent with how to handle the game.”
For the Wildcats, Saturday’s contest was nothing more than an opportunity to show whatever progress may have developed under new head coach Mark Stoops and hang tough with Georgia in Athens.
Upon their first three drives, UGA wasted no time trying to prove recent criticism of the team coming out flat against lesser opponents wrong and raced out to a quick 21-0 lead before Kentucky sophomore running back Dyshawn Mobley rushed 69 yards for the Wildcats’ first touchdown.
Kentucky’s impact on the scoreboard would be brief after sophomore quarterback Jalen Whitlow’s departure from the game in the first quarter following a rush attempt that resulted in a fumble forced by Bulldog senior defensive end Garrison Smith.
Wildcats’ backup quarterback Maxwell Smith would try to fill Whitlow’s void, but to no avail. UGA’s defense, which was second to last in the nation in takeaways, decided to try to make up for them all in one game with four forced fumbles and three recoveries.
Before the end of the second quarter, Murray already had four touchdown passes and 183 yards, but the stat sheet and his season would end before halftime.
After throwing an interception and taking a hit in the process with 4:09 left to in the half, Murray was seen hobbling badly to the sidelines with a knee injury, unable to place pressure on his left ankle. It turned out to be a torn ACL, which will end his season and likely cast doubt upon his status in the NFL draft.
Fans at Sanford halted all noise immediately with looks of horror on their faces. Murray would have to be helped off the field to the locker room and later escorted to a local hospital in an ambulance.
“It was hard to have a lot of fun out there,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt told the Atlanta Daily World. “I’m glad we won and I’m real proud of how we did, but it’s kind of a crummy feeling right now when you think about what Aaron’s going through right now.”
Junior backup quarterback Hutson Mason would take over for the remainder of the game and drive the Bulldogs offense in the second half with 189 passing yards and one more touchdown.
“Murray had been dealing with some lower back pain after that last hit from the Auburn game,” Mason said. “[Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo] tried to get me in earlier but Murray waived me off, and then the next play, they rushed me in.
“It’s like a fairy tale gone wrong for Murray. You just hate to see something like that happen on Senior Night, at home and at the end of the season.”
The commiseration in Athens will have to be short lived, as the Bulldogs now must prepare to face in-state rivals Georgia Tech next week in Atlanta for a season finale showdown for both teams.