Hutson Mason waited nearly four full years for his first start as the quarterback of the Georgia Bulldogs.
He got his chance on Saturday.
Unfortunately, with just two minutes remaining in the second quarter and his Dawgs trailing in-state rival Georgia Tech by 20 points on the road, the game resembled more of a nightmare than a dream come true for the new signal-caller.
As the Georgia defense yielded yards in bunches through the air and on the ground against a typically run-heavy Georgia Tech option offense, Mason struggled to find a rhythm during the Dawgs’ first four possessions. He completed just four of eight passes for 43 yards and one interception while being sacked twice.
But then, the poise, accuracy and leadership that Mason has been lauded for as a backup rose to the top, and the Bulldogs came clawing back.
Georgia took the ball over in time for one final drive of the first half, and suddenly Mason seemed to become a much more weathered veteran rather than a first-time starter, as he marched the Bulldogs 86 yards for a touchdown in just 1:09 of play.
He completed all five passes for 71 yards on the drive, including a touchdown pass to running back Todd Gurley, while adding a 16-yard gain on a quarterback scramble.
For a player filling the large, record-setting shoes vacated by senior Aaron Murray, who was lost for the season with an ACL injury last week, Mason certainly seemed up for the task as the half wound down. The long, time-efficient scoring drive with the Bulldogs trailing was reminiscent of the late-game drive that had become Murray’s calling card.
Mason’s ability to manage the huddle and move the ball served the Bulldogs well in the second half, as a 10-0 scoring edge for the Bulldogs in the third quarter closed the home team’s lead to just three points.
As the Georgia defense continued to struggle in the fourth quarter, the onus fell squarely on the shoulders of the offense, Mason in particular, just as it had been so many times for his predecessor.
However, while Aaron Murray needed a fourth season in Athens to demonstrate an ability to win big games and lead comebacks, Mason made his presence known in his first career start.
After a Tech score put the Jackets ahead 27-17, Mason and the Georgia offense answered convincingly with yet another long scoring drive. Mason distributed the ball to four different receivers as the Bulldogs used 59 passing yards to set up a Gurley touchdown run.
Moments later, a Georgia interception set up a Bulldogs field goal as Mason and the Dawgs’ feverish comeback forced overtime.
Earlier this week, Georgia coach Mark Richt told Mike Herndon of AL.com, that Mason had every opportunity to succeed within the Bulldog offense. “He's going to be running a system that is predicated on the quarterback getting the ball to the playmakers,” said Richt before adding, “So that's what he'll try to do.”
While it was a more than healthy dose of Todd Gurley that ultimately put the Yellow Jackets away in overtime, it was Hutson Mason who led the Bulldogs back after they fell behind by 20 points. It was Mason who did exactly what Richt anticipated as he got the ball to playmakers and led the Georgia offense to 437 total yards against a top-25 defense.
Mason orchestrated scoring drives, managed the game, found open receivers and gave the defense time to rest. In doing so, he developed his own identity in his first career start following the 52-game Aaron Murray era.
Mason will only improve with more game experience and increased reps with Georgia’s first team. But if Saturday’s comeback is any indication, his career as Georgia’s quarterback, although brief, will prove memorable.