KNOXVILLE - The Georgia Bulldogs began Saturday's game at Tennessee without tailback Todd Gurley, and they lost tailback Keith Marshall and receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley throughout the afternoon.
They never lost quarterback Aaron Murray, which is the major reason Georgia survived the Neyland Stadium visit with a 34-31 overtime victory.
"A lot of guys went down today, and that hurts a lot," Murray said. "We had a lot of adversity all day long, and we had to push through it. We finished the drill, and that's something they preach here at Georgia all the time."
With a minute and 54 seconds remaining in regulation and the Bulldogs trailing 31-24, Murray was accompanied by freshman tailbacks J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas and little-known receivers such as Rantavious Wooten and Rhett McGowan. With Neyland Stadium's orange-clad spectators sensing a sooner-than-expected signature win for first-year coach Butch Jones, Murray started dashing their hopes.
His 32-yard pass to Douglas down the left sideline got the Bulldogs to the Tennessee 13-yard line. After a couple of penalties on the Volunteers, Murray completed a third-and-goal attempt to Wooten for a 2-yard score that tied the game with five seconds to spare.
"To have 1:54 left with one timeout and to put it in the end zone -- that's big time," Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "I know last week against LSU was big time, but that was bigger right there. To be on the road and down seven -- he just made big play after big play when he had to."
Murray, who passed former Georgia quarterback David Greene as the Southeastern Conference's career passing leader with a fourth-down conversion in the second quarter, became the first starting quarterback to defeat Tennessee four consecutive times.
The first Georgia player to fall was Marshall, sustaining a right-knee injury late in the first quarter after gaining 33 yards on five carries. Bennett and Scott-Wesley were lost with right-knee injuries in the third quarter, with those two having combined for 36 yards on three catches.
"There were a lot of things going on," Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt said. "A lot of guys got hurt and couldn't finish the game, so a lot of players had to step up. Mike was calling plays trying to figure out who was in and who could do what. It handcuffed us a tad bit, but we kept playing and kept fighting and found a way to win."
When asked if he ever had experienced such a stretch of injuries during a game, Richt said, "Not like that."
Green rushed 17 times for 129 yards, with a long of 32. Douglas had just 25 yards on 10 rushing attempts but provided the 32-yard reception on the late tying drive.
"We stayed committed to the run, and those guys did a nice job of pressing the zone tracks and finding the cutback," Bobo said. "We missed a couple, which is natural, and we missed a couple of checks at the line when they started bringing a little pressure, but I felt like that's what we had to do.
"I felt like if we started slinging it, they were going to play more of a two-shell and play zone match underneath and challenge our X [receiver] to make plays."
Murray completed 19 of 35 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns, with his biggest throw being to Wooten. He also had a career-long 57-yard run down the middle of the field at the end of the third quarter to set up a 3-yard Douglas run on the first play of the fourth quarter that put the Bulldogs up 24-17.
"That was the longest run I've ever had, and I was dead tired," Murray said. "Thank goodness it was at the the end of the quarter, because I was really winded. They just matched our guys real quick, and I saw the opening and took off."
Richt was not in a mood to discuss the three potential season-ending injuries, instead saying, "I am thankful we won, and I am thankful we're leaving."
Leaving with a quarterback who is living out a remarkable senior season.
"I've aged about 10 years in the last two weeks," Murray said. "It's been a heck of a first five or six weeks this season, and you've just got to love this team."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.