If Georgia's national title hopes survived a near-fatal aneurysm at Tennessee on Saturday, quarterback Aaron Murray was the Nobel-winning surgeon who performed the operation and saved its life.
Talk about the world caving in on itself. Away from home, in what's still a daunting environment, against a team treating the game like the SEC Championship, Murray watched playmaker upon playmaker go down around him.
He knew coming in that he'd be without all-world running back Todd Gurley, but he didn't know that that would just be the start of his troubles.
"Backup" running back Keith Marshall left the game with a knee injury and could be seen crying grave tears on the sideline. Receiver Michael Bennett, Murray's safety valve, left early too, and the CBS broadcast confirmed that he had tweaked the right knee that suffered an ACL tear in 2012.
It was insult to injury, literally, when Justin Scott-Wesley went down later, plucking the last semblance of first-string receiver talent from Murray's arsenal. The pickings were less than slim.
UPDATE: Sunday, Oct. 6 5:55pm ET
Marshall and Scott-Wesley are out for the year, which only intensifies the pressure placed on Murray for the rest of the season.
Justin Scott-Wesley and Keith Marshall are out for the season with an ACL injury, Mark Richt announces.— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) October 6, 2013
-End of Update -
And then something amazing happened. Aaron Murray—the same Aaron Murray who "couldn't win a big game"—took the ball, down seven, on the road, with 1:54 left, and led his veritable band of misfits down the field on a 10-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game and force overtime.
Georgia eventually won, stealing victory from the jaws of defeat. But the triumph was a Pyrrhic one. If any or all of those injured weapons stays hurt, this is what every subsequent win will have to look like.
Each good result will feel like dental surgery.
Let's just assume, for one paranoid second, that everyone who missed or left the Tennessee game won't be able to play—at least—in next week's home tilt with undefeated Missouri.
Here's what Murray would be left with:
|Name||Stats vs. TEN||Career Stats Before Saturday|
|WR Chris Conley||5 rec, 64 yds, 1 TD||51 rec, 884 yds, 10 TD|
|TE Arthur Lynch||n/a||37 rec, 617 yds, 5 TD|
|WR Rantavious Wooten||6 rec, 38 yds, 2 TD||36 rec, 510 yds, 6 TD|
|WR Rhett McGowan||2 rec, 13 yds||24 rec, 291 yds, 2 TD|
|WR Reggie Davis||1 rec, 9 yds||3 rec, 158 yds, 1 TD|
|RB J.J. Green||18 touches, 131 yds||5 car, 65 yds|
|RB Brandan Douglas||11 touches, 57 yds||11 car, 39 yds|
Source: Sports-Reference / ESPN
Some of those players have raw skill that looks like future stardom—freshmen like J.J. Green and Reggie Davis in particular. But other than Lynch and Conley, none would have ideally seen much playing time in 2013.
Let's look at this another way. Assuming, again, that only those listed players can play in the Missouri game (if not longer), here are some loss-of-production splits:
Which is a fancy way of saying that Murray is on an island. Georgia is Georgia, and it recruits Georgia-level talent, so none of these players are scrubs.
But with the exception of Lynch and Conley, none of them should be featured on a team with national title hopes in 2013.
"A lot of guys went down today and that hurts a lot," said Murray, according to ESPN. "Guys stepped up, (and) made some big plays for us."
But that's putting it kindly. Those aren't the words of an honest, candid, plain-speaking football player. Those are the words of a media-trained athlete—a senior and four-year starter—who has learned the art of political language.
Who Will Win the SEC East?
Murray willed Georgia to victory on Saturday, and it was almost a single-handed effort. The two-minute drill he executed was ripe with drops and brain farts, but he still made it work; and before that, scared to put the ball in anyone else's hands, he set up a touchdown with a 57-yard scamper.
Can Georgia's senior leader be expected to do that every weekend? Is it fair to put that much pressure on him, knowing full well that every time Georgia (or any high-profile team) loses, everyone's immediate reaction is to blame the quarterback?
The schedule isn't easy. Missouri might be for real, and I'm inclined to say it actually is. The Tigers looked good in a blowout win at Vanderbilt, and they gave Georgia fits in 2012. A road game at Vandy and neutral-site game with Florida loom directly after that.
The toughest part of 2013 is behind UGA, but in the Southeastern Conference, no win* comes easy.
Murray has responded well to in-game pressure all season. But this type of pressure is more profound. This is systemic pressure, the kind that accrues over weeks of time and masses of spilled ink.
How far can Murray drag his team?
*Unless it involves Kentucky.