KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Georgia’s national title hopes came close to crumbling on Rocky Top with the Bulldogs injuries piling up one after another.
The sixth-ranked Bulldogs escaped with a 34-31 overtime victory against Tennessee on Saturday on a 42-yard Marshall Morgan field goal.
“I really don’t have much to say other than I’m thankful we won and thankful we’re leaving,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt who brought a packed bag with him to the postgame news conference, looking like he was ready to get out of town.
It was that kind of day for Georgia (4-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference), which blew a 17-3, third-quarter lead while some of its best playmakers – tailback Keith Marshall and receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley – were lost with right knee injuries.
Richt wasn’t in much of a celebratory mood afterwards, not on a day Marshall and Scott-Wesley were carted away from the sideline, an indication that their injuries could be serious.
“I just don’t know what the carnage is right now,” said Richt, who didn’t want to discuss what he knew of the severity of the injuries. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Freshman J.J. Green rushed for 129 yards on 17 carries, including a 17-yard run in the Bulldogs’ game-tying drive in regulation. He became the top ball-carrier as Todd Gurley was already out with a sprained ankle and then Marshall left injured.
Punter Collin Barber was knocked out of the game with a concussion after having a punt blocked for a touchdown.
Georgia was already a team battling injuries with star tailback Gurley sidelined, safety Tray Matthews out with a pulled hamstring and Connor Norman, the special teams captain, also out with a concussion.
Richt, in college coaching for nearly 30 years, said he hadn’t ever seen a similar rash of injuries.
“Not like that, not like that,” he said. “It’s just such a shame. Guys work so hard. Really went through camp overall pretty good. Had one of our best camps as far as injuries are concerned. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Tennessee (3-3, 0-2) used the blocked punt for touchdown to tie the game after trailing by two touchdowns and drew even again in the fourth quarter at 24-24.
The Bulldogs marched 75 yards on 10 plays to tie the game at 31 with five seconds left in regulation and got a big break after Tennessee got the ball first in overtime.
Tennessee’s Pig Howard took a handoff on an end around for a 7-yard touchdown, officials initially ruled, but a replay review showed he fumbled out of the end zone for a touchback as he dove for the pylon, ending the possession.
Georgia got the ball and ended up with the first game-ending, game-winning field goal since Blair Walsh against Arizona State in 2009.
Georgia forced overtime when Rantavious Wooten caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Murray with five seconds to play after getting the ball with 1:54 to play, trailing 31-24.
“The play really called for a fade to the outside and he didn’t like what he saw out there,” Richt said. “He just stuck it in there, man. … It was a good, safe throw down and low. If nothing else, it looked like we would still have another snap after that.”
Said Murray: “That’s fun. As a quarterback, that’s what you want. You want the ball in your hands with an opportunity to make plays and lead your team down the field in this case tie it up and we were able to do that.”
Murray became the SEC’s all-time passing yardage leader, now with 11,625 yards. He entered the game needing 100 yards to pass former Bulldog David Greene. He got it on a fourth-and-4 pass to Chris Conley for 24 yards over the middle in the second quarter.
Murray completed 19 of 35 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns and had a career-high 57-yard run on a scramble (“I’m glad he didn’t pull a hamstring in the process,” Richt said) to set up a 3-yard Brendan Douglas touchdown run to put Georgia ahead 24-17 early in the fourth quarter.
“I had a feeling today at the hotel that it was going to be one of those games, a barnburner,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “A bunch of guys stepped up and they’re going to have to continue to step up for us.”