ATHENS, Ga. – Aaron Murray's record-breaking college career is over.
Georgia sports communications director Claude Felton confirmed on Sunday that the senior quarterback tore the ACL in his left knee in Saturday's 59-17 win against Kentucky.
Murray, who will miss next Saturday's regular-season finale against Georgia Tech as well as the Bulldogs' bowl game, will undergo surgery to repair the knee Tuesday and face a lengthy rehabilitation process.
He will also miss any postseason All-Star games -- Bulldogs tight end Arthur Lynch said earlier this week that he and Murray planned to play in the Senior Bowl in January -- and the mid-February NFL combine during the run-up to the draft, which begins May 8.
Georgia's period of mourning over Murray's injury can't last long.
The Bulldogs face rival Georgia Tech in six days -- and for the first time since 2009, they'll do it with someone other than Murray under center.
Once considered the Bulldogs' quarterback in waiting for 2014 -- after Murray, the SEC's all-time leading passer, departed for the NFL -- Hutson Mason's time is now, and that isn't as much of a cause for concern as one might expect.
"I think the whole team is confident in him," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said of Mason. "He's been preparing for four years now for his moment. His moment's just come a little earlier than we thought it might. I know he's ready and I know everybody believes in him."
Mason has been Murray's primary backup since arriving at Georgia in 2010, and he opted to redshirt last season instead of transferring in order to gain a year of class separation between himself and Murray. The idea was to have one final season where he could potentially serve as the starting quarterback.
Murray posted to Twitter twice Sunday morning thanking Georgia's fans for their support.
Thank you for all the prayers over the past few hours. Gonna come back stronger than ever! Dawg for life. Truly love you all #GoDawgs
— Aaron Murray (@aaronmurray11) November 24, 2013
Murray left the game with just over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, when Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith slammed him to the turf after Murray's pass to Rhett McGowan deflected off the receiver and landed in Wildcats linebacker Khalid Henderson's hands at the Kentucky 2-yard line. Murray needed help from trainers to get off the field and immediately departed for the locker room without putting weight on his left leg.
He had entered the game at less than 100 percent following a crushing hit on the final play of last weekend's loss to Auburn -- and actually injured his knee at the end of a 28-yard run early in the second quarter.
Murray was visibly struggling after the run, but remained in the game and completed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Lynch three plays later -- Murray's fourth scoring pass in the first five possessions. Georgia's coaches planned to remove Murray from the game immediately after the initial injury, but the notoriously tough quarterback waved off Mason when he tried to enter the game.
"I tried to put Hutson in and basically he wouldn't let me," Bobo said of their conversation after Lynch's touchdown put the Bulldogs up 28-7. "He said, 'I'm fine and I'm playing,' and I said, 'Well I need to see you move around out there.' He moved around and moved around pretty good. But he's a tough kid. Just an honor to really coach him and get to know him for the last five years."
After Murray talked Bobo into letting him stay in the game, the very next possession ended with the interception -- and Smith's big hit -- near the Wildcats' goal line.
"Everyone knows Murray's career and how tough he's been," said Mason, who went 13-for-19 for 189 yards and a touchdown after replacing Murray. "He's always been that guy that everyone thought that he gets hit, he gets smacked and he gets back up and you always thought that no hit could really keep him down. It's kind of jaw-dropping to just see him get [helped] off the field because for five years, he's never even had a minor injury."
Murray has started all 52 games of his college career, with his start against Kentucky helping him match David Greene's program record for career starts by a non-kicker. As Mason said, he has absorbed some vicious shots over the last four seasons, but rarely has he even missed a play for any reason other than a coach's decision.
In the process, he has broken nearly every significant SEC career passing record, and on Saturday he became the first quarterback in league history -- and one of just four from any conference -- to pass for at least 3,000 yards in four seasons.
Now it's up to Mason to lead the offense, and he has some enormous shoes to fill.
"I feel good with him, man," said tailback Todd Gurley, who rushed for 77 yards and caught five passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns against Kentucky. "Hutson's a baller, but at the end of the day it's just going to be so hard to try to replace a guy like Aaron. He's the best to ever do it, to me."
Bobo agreed with his star tailback's assessment. Murray's storied career ended two games earlier than expected -- and on his final night at Sanford Stadium -- but his trademark toughness allowed him to stay on the field until he no longer had any choice in the matter.
"I'm proud of the way he played tonight and the way he gutted it out and played like he always does -- like a champion," Bobo said.