KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Georgia’s national title hopes kept shrinking as its injury list kept growing. Then Aaron Murray and Marshall Morgan came to the rescue and saved the sixth-ranked Bulldogs’ championship aspirations.
Morgan kicked a 42-yard field goal in overtime after Murray threw a game-tying touchdown pass with five seconds remaining in regulation Saturday as Georgia overcame a flurry of injuries in a 34-31 victory at Tennessee.
‘‘I hit it and I knew it was good,’’ Morgan said. ‘‘I was just thinking — I don’t know — I just kind of lay down because I saw people running at me and my knee’s already [been] hurting all game.’’
Morgan wasn’t the only Bulldog with an aching knee. Georgia running back Keith Marshall injured his right knee in the first quarter and was carted into the locker room, the first sign the day might not go as planned for the Bulldogs. They found a way to win anyhow.
Georgia (4-1, 3-0 Southeastern) forced overtime on Murray’s 2-yard TD pass to Rantavious Wooten to make it 31-all. Georgia coach Mark Richt said the play actually was designed as a fade to the outside, but Murray instead found Wooten open across the middle.
Rajion Neal’s 7-yard run put Tennessee (3-3, 0-2) ahead, 31-24, with 1:54 left after Justin Worley found A.J. Branisel for a 28-yard completion on fourth-and-1 from the Georgia 35.
Tennessee’s Alton ‘‘Pig’’ Howard capped the first overtime possession by losing control of the ball as he dove toward the front right corner of the end zone. Howard’s play was initially ruled a 7-yard TD, but replays showed he fumbled prior to crossing the goal line, turning the potential score into a turnover and touchback.
‘‘Alton gave us a spark today,’’ Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. ‘‘He was just trying to make a play.’’
Murray went 19 of 35 for 196 yards with three TDs and became the SEC’s all-time leader in career yards passing. Murray has 11,625 yards, breaking the record held by David Greene, who threw for 11,528 yards for Georgia from 2001-04. Neal ran for 148 yards for Tennessee (3-3, 0-2), which has lost 19 straight games against ranked opponents.
‘‘A lot of guys went down today and that hurts a lot,’’ Murray said. ‘‘We hit a lot of adversity all day long and we had to push through it, find guys to step up and guys stepped up, made some big plays for us.’’
Marshall injured his knee after taking a hit from Tennessee’s Cam Sutton while reaching for an incomplete pass in the first quarter and was carted into the locker room. Wide receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley and punter Colin Barber were knocked out of the game later. Georgia played the entire game without injured star running back Todd Gurley and safeties Tray Matthews and Connor Norman.
Georgia still built a 17-3 halftime lead on the strength of Morgan’s 56-yard field goal — the longest in Neyland Stadium history — and two Murray touchdown passes. But after a 39-yard field-goal attempt by Morgan bounced off the left upright in the third quarter, Tennessee rallied to tie the game.
Tennessee wore ‘‘Smokey Gray’’ alternate uniforms in hopes of ending its history of frustration against ranked teams. The Vols hadn’t used alternate uniforms since wearing their black jerseys in a 31-13 victory over No. 21 South Carolina on Halloween in 2009, their last win over a Top 25 team.