ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray says he has yet to move past what occurred in the closing seconds of the SEC championship game, when the Bulldogs' hopes for an upset of Alabama and a chance at a national title died at the Crimson Tide's 5-yard line.
"I can't sleep at night," Murray said Wednesday in his first interview since the 32-28 loss to Alabama on Dec. 1. "I literally replay the entire game pretty much every night before I go to bed. It's stressful. It's a game that will probably haunt me the rest of my life, honestly."
The decision leading up to the final play itself has been the subject of much debate inside and outside the Georgia program in the ensuing 11 days. With Georgia out of timeouts, the Bulldogs opted to throw to the end zone instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock and instead running a well-worn play they call "stout" that features dual fade routes from the outside receivers and speed outs by the two inside receivers.
Murray threw a back-shoulder fade to Malcolm Mitchell -- who faced tight coverage from Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner -- in the right flank, and he has little doubt what would have happened had the ball made it to its intended target.
"Oh, it's a touchdown," Murray said. "It's a 50-50 ball, and the guy's facing Malcolm and Malcolm's supposed to just go up and catch the ball. It's not like the guy's facing me where he could have made a play on it. He would have had to, when Malcolm had his hands on the ball, had to strip it out of his hands. So it would have been up to Malcolm to make the play."
There is one problem for Murray in this scenario that prevented what might have happened from becoming a reality. Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley stopped his late pass rush, threw up his hands and got his fingertips on the line-drive pass. The deflected ball floated into Georgia receiver Chris Conley's hands, and he caught the ball inbounds before slipping to the turf at the 5.
The Bulldogs could do nothing as the final seconds ticked off the clock, securing Alabama's win and a chance for the Tide to meet No. 1 Notre Dame on Jan. 7 in the Discover BCS National Championship Game.
There was more than enough regret to go around after the narrow defeat, but the Bulldogs don't think they made the wrong decision to go for a touchdown instead of stopping the clock in the waning seconds. What they regret is the outcome -- aside from a turnover, the worst-case scenario in such a situation -- that Mosley's deflection brought about.
"Part of going no-huddle is when you have the defense on the run, you snap the ball again. You don't need to stop play. Play was stopped because we had a first down," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "With 15 seconds, strategically if you are able to call a play and it's incomplete, you have time for two more plays. You can run three plays. You want to give yourself as many opportunities as you can.
"If you clock the ball, you probably only get two shots, and hopefully you only need one. If we had clocked the ball, we would have called the same play. It was the play that we wanted to call. The problem was the ball got tipped and landed in play."
Conley attempted to take the blame in interviews after the game but said Wednesday that his teammates and Georgia's fans have been extremely supportive and have reminded him that it's instinctive for a player at his position to catch the ball when it comes directly to him.
"The whole Bulldog Nation has been constantly either messaging me on the Internet or finding a way to get in touch with me," Conley said. "I can't tell you how many people have been congratulating me on the season or telling me that it's not over for me."
Richt reminded reporters Wednesday of the clock-management problems he encountered late in his first game as a head coach against Auburn in 2001. With no timeouts left, trailing 24-17 and facing first-and-goal at the Auburn 1, Richt called a running play to Jasper Sanks. Auburn's defense stopped Sanks for no gain, and time ran out on the Bulldogs before they could reset.
Richt visited with offensive guru Homer Smith after that season to address clock-management situations, and Georgia's coach applied the lesson he learned from that meeting against Alabama. In short: Be prepared for the situation and don't halt your momentum.
"Homer is not going to clock the ball. He says clocking the ball is for people who don't have a plan," Richt said. "If you're prepared and you've moved the chains, the clock is stopped and you've got the play that you like, then call it."
Even if the play backfired, Richt said he has no regrets about the decision. They ran a pass play that has worked to great success all season, to one of their most productive receivers, and Alabama's defender simply made a great play.
"We're great at (the back-shoulder fade)," Murray said. "That's why I feel like if that ball wasn't tipped, there was a pretty good chance that it would have been a completion. But hey, it happens. Move on."