Hutson Mason has been the heir apparent to Aaron Murray since the moment he signed with the Bulldogs in February 2010. He even took a redshirt as a junior in 2012 to give himself one year of separation from Aaron Murray, who was also a junior that season.
He didn't look like a superstar against Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, but he certainly looked ready for the job despite some early-game jitters.
One month after leading Georgia to a double-overtime win over Georgia Tech in place of Murray, who tore his ACL the previous week against Kentucky, Mason came out rattled in the 24-19 loss to the Cornhuskers on Wednesday afternoon—as was the case against the Jackets.
Mason again led his team back out of a hole and into a position to win. But this time, his teammates let him down.
Wide receiver Rantavious Wooten and tight end Arthur Lynch, in particular.
Statistically, Mason was on point.
The Marietta, Ga.,-native completed 21 of 40 passes for 320 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
He was rattled in the pocket early, kept his eyes on the pass rush rather than his receivers and routinely made bad decisions, like throwing a four-yard curl into double coverage on 3rd-and-5 early in the fourth quarter when Michael Bennett was wide open on a corner route.
Is Hutson Mason ready to be Georgia's QB?
But then it clicked.
With the Bulldogs down five in the middle of the fourth, he led them down the field and into the red zone, before Wooten dropped a 4th-and-2 pass for a first down after getting rocked by the Nebraska defender. Earlier in the drive, Lynch dropped a 2nd-and-10 pass on the Nebraska 22-yard line.
On Georgia's last drive of the game, Wooten again dropped a pass over the middle on 1st-and-15, and Lynch got stone hands on the final offensive play of the game for the Bulldogs—a 4th-and-3 from the Nebraska 16.
"I think I turned my head at the last second and was thinking end zone," Lynch told ESPN.com. "It's one of those situations. It's not so much I dropped the pass. It's that I let my team down. At the end of the day, it's one of those things that you can never forget, brush off your shoulders."
Lynch and Wooten—two seniors—closing out their careers in heartbreaking fashion.
CBS Sports' Tim Brando puts Lynch's drop in perspective.
Gut wrenching drop for Arthur Lynch as Senior TE for the Bulldogs. I'm so happy though for Pelini as he has endured so much this season.— Tim Brando (@TimBrando) January 1, 2014
Don't blame the loss on Mason.
Sure, he could have done more early on to prevent the Bulldogs from being in that position to begin with. But he was making just his second career start in sloppy conditions in Jacksonville. He's not going to step in and instantly become an Aaron Murray clone.
Now Georgia knows what his strengths are and, more importantly, what he needs to work on during the offseason. With Clemson looming in the opener and South Carolina in Week 3, that kind of knowledge is power.