ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Coach Mark Richt says the play that ended quarterback Aaron Murray's season wasn't the senior's final snap when he was flung to the ground by Kentucky defensive end Za'Darius Smith.
Richt said Sunday Murray heard a pop in his left knee when he made a cut on his 28-yard run on Georgia's earlier possession in the second quarter on Saturday night. Murray was limping at the end of that series, which ended with his touchdown pass to tight end Arthur Lynch. But he remained in the game for one more possession.
Georgia said that tests Saturday night and another exam Sunday confirmed Murray tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee and will have season-ending surgery this week. Hutson Mason will make his first career start when Georgia plays at Georgia Tech on Saturday.
"He felt something pop whenever it happened on the run," Richt said. "He didn't know for sure what it was. We've had other guys feel or hear something pop and then they're fine. He was feeling good enough to put him back in there."
Richt said it was a non-contact injury. "He cut back across the grain," Richt said. "He could have just run straight out of bounds. He decided to make a right-hand turn. When he was changing direction, that's when it happened."
Murray remained on the field to complete the touchdown drive, but appeared upset as he walked to the sideline. Murray had to convince Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo he could remain in the game following the touchdown pass to Lynch, Murray's fourth TD pass of the 59-17 win over Kentucky.
"We were going to get him out," Richt said. "You could tell something was going on. He just refused. I think he kind of knew. He knew something happened but didn't know what." Richt said he approached Murray on the sideline to tell him he was being pulled from the game. "I said 'You're out, dude,'" Richt said. "He said 'No, no way.' I said 'You better talk to (Bobo) and convince him you're all right.'"
Murray pedaled on an exercise bike behind the bench and then ran on the sideline to convince Bobo he could stay in the game. Murray played only one more series. He left the game after he was hit by Smith on his only interception with 2:17 remaining in the half.
Richt said there was no further damage to Murray's knee by playing the additional series. Murray couldn't put weight on his left leg and was supported by trainers as he was taken to the locker room. It proved to be the end of his college career on the night seniors were honored during Georgia's final home game of the season.
"There was something wrong and he knew it and couldn't hide it anymore," Richt said. "He was trying to hide it, I think. But he knew it happened earlier on." Despite Georgia's big win, Richt called Murray's injury "just sickening" after the game and said he "really had a hard time enjoying the rest of the game."
On Sunday, Richt said he felt "a little better" after trading texts with Murray. Richt said Murray quickly moved past his initial disappointment. "He's not going to mope around and cry," Richt said, adding Murray already is preparing for his rehabilitation. "He's already kind of getting geared up for that challenge," Richt said.
Murray started all 52 games of his four years and became the Southeastern Conference's career leader in yards passing, touchdown passes, completions and total offense. The senior is the first quarterback in SEC history to pass for at least 3,000 yards in four seasons.
Murray completed 18 of 23 passes for 183 yards with four touchdowns against Kentucky. Murray thanked Georgia fans for their concern and support in a message on his Twitter account Sunday. "Thank you for all the prayers over the past few hours. Gonna come back stronger than ever! Dawg for life. Truly love you all #GoDawgs," Murray said.
In another tweet, Murray said, "Truly am blessed to have been your QB for 4 years!" Georgia director of sports medicine Ron Courson said a full recovery is expected for Murray, who bypassed early entry in the NFL draft to return for his senior year.
Richt said he was confident Murray will be selected in the next NFL draft because there is such a long record of successful recoveries from ACL injuries. It has been a disappointing season for Murray's Bulldogs (7-4, 5-3 SEC), who have lost several top players to season-ending knee injuries, including running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley. Running back Todd Gurley also missed three games and receiver Michael Bennett missed two with injuries.