ATHENS, Ga. — Game after game, while one top playmaker after another was lost for the season or shelved for a few weeks by injury, quarterback Aaron Murray was the calm in the middle of the storm that swirled around Georgia’s season.
The Bulldogs held out hope that their most valuable player could stay on the field.
Until his final home game, he did.
Now, Murray’s record-setting college career is now over.
The Bulldogs’ fifth-year senior and face of the program will undergo surgery Tuesday after tearing the ACL in his left knee during Georgia’s 59-17 rout Kentucky on Saturday night.
The school confirmed the news Sunday morning after his mother spread the word about the injury via Facebook.
“I actually exchanged some texts with Aaron and he was basically saying, ‘Hey, let’s get back to work. Let’s get this thing done,’” coach Mark Richt said Sunday night. “He’s not going to mope around and cry. He certainly initially was heartbroken by it, but after he realized what the deal was, what was going to have to happen as far as surgery and what he needed to do to get back to where he can play again, he’s already trying to get geared up for that challenge.”
Murray ends his Bulldogs career as the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leader in passing yards (13,166), touchdown passes (121), completions (921) and total offense (13,562).
He is sixth on the FBS career touchdown list and 10th in passing yards.
His 52-game starting streak – tied with David Greene for most by a non-kicker in program history – ends after he sustained the injury in the second quarter of the rout of Kentucky on Senior Night.
Richt said Murray tore the ACL on a non-contact injury when changing direction on a zone-read run on the first play of “the second quarter, but didn’t do further damage by continuing to play on it for the rest of that drive and another.
“There was something wrong, and he knew it, and couldn’t hide it anymore,” Richt said.
He stayed in for 13 more plays after Kentucky’s Ashley Lowery dragged him down by his left leg at the end of the 28-yard run.
“He felt it pop, he felt something pop whenever it happened on the run,” Richt said. “Then he didn’t know for sure what it was.”
Murray waved off coming out of the game and convinced his coaches to let him play on until he could no longer play after Kentucky’s Za’Darius Smith slung Murray around after interception and threw him to the turf.
Junior Hutson Mason will get his first career start Saturday against Georgia Tech.
“I think the whole team is confident in him,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said of Mason. “He’s been preparing for four years now for his moment. His moment’s just coming a little bit earlier than we thought it might. I know he’s ready and I know everybody believes in him.”
Murray becomes the fourth frontline offensive player to be lost for the year to an ACL injury, joining receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall.
“You feel bad for him, you feel terrible for him,” Mason said.
Tailback Todd Gurley, receivers Michael Bennett and tight end Jay Rome have also missed multiple games due to injury.
Murray finished the season with a 64.8 completion percentage, the highest of his college career.
He threw this season for 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions and his 3,075 passing yards ranks second in the SEC behind 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.
Georgia said team physicians re-evaluated Murray on Sunday morning. Post-surgery rehabilitation will start immediately and a full recovery is expected.
Murray was set to play in the Senior Bowl in January, but won’t have that chance now. He’ll likely still attend the NFL Combine in February.
The NFL draft is pushed back in 2014. It will be held May 8-10 in New York.
Before his injury, CBSSports.com projected Murray as a second to third rounder and the No. 5 senior quarterback while ESPN’s Mel Kiper pegged Murray to go anywhere from the third to sixth round.
“I think he’ll get drafted,” Richt said. “It’s a surgery that’s quite common and a rehab that’s quite common and very common for everybody to get back to full speed.”