ATHENS - Aaron Murray "felt something pop" on his 28-yard run in the second quarter on Saturday night, according to Georgia head coach Mark Richt. It proved to be a torn ACL.
But Murray finished the drive and played two more on the torn ACL, waving off coaches and his backup, before it finally became unbearable.
"He was trying to hide it from everybody, I think," Richt said Sunday night.
Murray ended up staying in the game for 13 plays after tearing his ACL, completing a touchdown pass in the process, and completing 5-of-7 passes for 46 yards, as well as an interception, which proved to be the final pass of his Georgia career.
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Richt said the severity of the injury was not made worse by Murray continuing to play.
"He felt something pop, whenever it happened on the run. Then he didn't know for sure what it was," Richt said. "We've had other guys feel or hear something pop and they're fine. But he wanted to keep playing. He was moving around well enough to put him back in there."
The only injury Murray sustained was the ACL, according to Richt and Murray's mother, Lauren. There was no further ligament damage. So the inference seemed to be that Richt gutted it out for those 13 plays, before it finally became unbearable.
"There was something wrong, and he knew it, and he couldn't hide it anymore," Richt said.
Then Richt made another point to explain why Murray was able to continue to play.
"Back in the day, guys would have an ACL injury, and there would never be surgery. It would happen, and then it would be sore awhile, and then it'd be okay and they'd start playing again. ... I know Hines Ward, I think he played his whole college and pro career without an ACL," Richt said, alluding to the former Georgia and NFL star. "So you can play with an ACL torn. It's just nowadays, you have the imaging, you have the MRIs, you can see the issue and you go make the repair. It's usually very successful."
Murray's injury came on the first play of the second quarter, as he darted downfield, going down at Kentucky's 21-yard line. Murray finished that drive, hitting Arthur Lynch for an 8-yard touchdown. (After the pass, Murray was visibly hurt and frustrated, not celebrating like usual, and getting on an exercise bike shortly after hitting the sideline.)
Murray then played the next drive, leading Georgia inside the Kentucky 10. But a third-and-goal pass was tipped and then picked off by Kentucky. Murray was thrown to the ground after passing the ball, and remained on the ground until trainers arrived.
In between drives, Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo had made the decision to put Hutson Mason in the game, even telling Mason. But they hadn't told Murray, who was on the exercise bike, and when they did Murray convinced them he could stay in the game, running on the sideline to prove it.
"We were trying to take him out, but he just refused," Richt said. "I think he kinda knew. Well he knew something happened, he didn't know what. He's a competitor, he wanted to play."
Murray's surgery is set for Tuesday, according to his mother's Facebook post. That figures to derail Murray's plans to work out for teams before the NFL draft and participate in the NFL combine. But Richt said he still expects Murray to be drafted and be able to play next year.
"There wasn't major damage to the knee," Richt said. "From what I've heard, there's nothing disconnected with it other than that. Those tend to heal real well, and rehabs go real well."
Richt pointed to Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett, two Georgia receivers who tore their ACLs last year, but have played since the start of this season. (Brown is starring as an undrafted rookie for the Baltimore Ravens, and Bennett is Georgia's second-leading receiver.
Richt said he exchanged text messages with Murray on Sunday.
"He's basically saying: Let's get this thing done, and get back to work," Richt said. "He's not gonna mope around and cry. he certainly was initially heartbroken by it. But after he realized what the deal was, what was gonna have to happen, as far as the surgery and what he needed to do in order to get back to play again, he was already getting geared up for that challenge."