Dawgs find a way in another thriller
October, 6, 2013
By Chris Low | ESPN.com
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Aaron Murray's not sure how much more of this he can take.
Then again, this is precisely the reason he came back to Georgia, for moments like this.
A fifth-year senior, who was once branded as the guy who couldn’t win the big one, Murray has made winning an art form this season for No. 6-ranked Georgia, and he engineered yet another thrilling 34-31 overtime win Saturday against Tennessee in Neyland Stadium.
“These are memories we’ll have for the rest of our lives,” Murray said. “When we come back and have reunions and meet up, these are the games we’ll talk about. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
“We’re five games into the season and made a ton of memories ... and have a lot more to go.”
Murray, who became the SEC’s all-time leader in passing yards, was one of the few in the Georgia locker room not on crutches or ailing in some way Saturday evening on the banks of the Tennessee River.
In Saturday's game alone, the Bulldogs lost tailback Keith Marshall and receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley to knee injuries. Even punter Collin Barber was knocked out of the game with a concussion.
The Bulldogs were already missing star tailback Todd Gurley, who missed the game with an ankle injury, not to mention safeties Tray Matthews (hamstring) and Connor Norman (concussion).
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia quarterback Aaron Murray on Saturday became the Southeastern Conference's all-time leader in career yards passing (11,625).
And after the game, even Georgia coach Mark Richt was sporting a bloody finger after cutting it on a chair while doing his post-game interview.
“I’m not really in the celebrating mood so much, just thankful to escape here with a victory considering what happened,” said Richt, who also took a spill on the sideline during the game after a player crashed into him.
Richt, who lost his top receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, in the opener against Clemson, said he purposefully didn’t talk to Georgia head trainer Ron Courson before meeting with the media.
“I didn’t want to say anything to anybody. I’m just not in the mood to talk about it right now,” said Richt, whose Bulldogs won their third game this season despite giving up 30 or more points.
Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC) will know more about the injuries after the players undergo tests, but the fear was that Marshall and Scott-Wesley could be lost for the season. Bennett’s injury may not be as severe, and Richt said Gurley was probably “50-50” for next week’s game against Missouri.
As bummed as Richt was about seeing so many of his players go down with injuries, he was thrilled with his team’s resiliency.
Murray was surgical on the game-tying 75-yard touchdown drive to force overtime, and then Marshall Morgan won it for the Bulldogs with a 42-yard field goal in overtime after missing from 39 yards in the third quarter and making one from 56 yards to open the game.
On Georgia's last drive before the end of regulation, Murray was without his top three receivers and his top two running backs, and his 2-yard touchdown pass to senior Rantavious Wooten was a third-down strike that couldn’t have been thrown any better.
“I talked to Aaron on the phone right before the drive, and there was no panic,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “He just said, ‘Let’s go do this.’
“Everything that possibly could go wrong was going wrong, players falling out right and left. You’ve got to give [Tennessee] credit. They did a great job against us, but we made enough plays to win.”
The Bulldogs only needed a field goal in overtime after the Vols fumbled the ball at the goal line, resulting in a touchback. Pig Howard lost the ball just short of the goal line while trying to stretch out and get to the pylon. It was called a touchdown on the field, but was overturned by replay.
It was a heartbreaking way for the Vols to lose, but the most convincing statements yet under first-year coach Butch Jones that he has the program headed in the right direction after three consecutive losing seasons.
“This team has become closer than any team I’ve been a part of, and they hurt. But we’re going to keep grinding. That’s the only way I know how to do it,” said Jones, whose Vols went for it on fourth down three different times in the game and converted all three.
The Bulldogs appeared to be in huge trouble after the Vols (3-3, 0-2 SEC) went ahead 31-24 with 1:54 to play.
Neyland Stadium was rocking like the old days, and Georgia was limping -- literally.
“As a quarterback, that’s what you want, the ball in your hands and a chance to lead your team down the field,” Murray said.
And that’s exactly what he did.
Of course, it’s that kind of wherewithal that has defined this program over the last few years. Even with the injuries, the Bulldogs probably shouldn’t have been in a position where they needed a clutch drive just to force overtime, especially after leading 17-3 at the half.
But when adversity has come their way, they’ve responded.
It’s probably fitting that Wooten was the one catching the game-tying touchdown with five seconds left in regulation. He was involved in an automobile accident two years ago that ended his season, and he hadn’t played a whole lot this season prior to Saturday.
“When other guys go down, you just have to step up and make plays,” Wooten said. “You can’t be that guy that doesn’t make the play. That’s what good teams do. We say ‘next man up’ here at Georgia for a reason. We believe in that.”
The obvious question now: Can the Bulldogs continue winning these thrill-a-minute games, and probably more importantly, can they keep winning when they’re giving up 30-plus points every game?
“We know it’s on the defense to keep getting better and keep growing,” Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “This was such an emotional win, a tough win, a win that cost us a lot of good players. But what matters is that this team found a way to win it, and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”
As Murray walked off the field on Saturday, he looked at Richt and joked that he was aging in dog years.
“I’ve aged about 10 years in these last two or three weeks,” said Murray, who threw three touchdown passes and also had a 57-yard run to set up a touchdown. “This team just continues to grow up and mature every week.”
And continues to hang around in the national championship mix despite the odds and despite what now appears to be some key players watching from the sideline the rest of the way.
“This senior class has been through a lot. All the seniors and juniors have done a great job of leading this team and pushing this team,” Murray said. “We understand what losing seasons feel like. We understand what it takes to come back from an 0-2 start and what it takes to come back from a huge loss to South Carolina.
“We’ve been through it all, and we’ve never lost focus.”