ATHENS -- Sometimes the great plays turn out to be the worst. And so it might be with one by Todd Gurley for the Georgia football team.
During the second quarter of the Bulldogs’ win over LSU on Sept. 28, Gurley ran 23 yards to the right sideline, where his right ankle planted in a bad way. He jogged off the field but would not return to the field until Georgia’s national titles were gone, more than a month later.
Two games into Gurley’s return, his ankle is still an issue. But whether he can be on the field and at close to 100 percent might dictate whether Georgia can salvage something from its season by knocking off No. 7 Auburn on Saturday.
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo summed it up neatly by saying, “Quite frankly we need him on offense. We’re not near as explosive when he’s not in there. He gives us a lift.”
The statistics bear out Bob’s assessment.
On a pure scoring level Georgia is better with Gurley. He has touched the ball on 48 of Georgia’s drives this year, and the team has 123 points on those drives. There have been 50 drives in which neither Gurley nor Keith Marshall has touched the ball. Georgia has just 91 points on those drives.
But the starkest example may be in this stat: Georgia is averaging 7.5 yards per play on drives in which Gurley touches the ball. On drives in which he doesn’t touch the ball, it drops to 5.9 yards per play.
Perhaps Georgia’s best offensive game this year, taking into account the competition was against South Carolina: 536 yards, zero turnovers, a 41-30 victory.
That also happened to be the one game this year that Gurley touched the ball on every Georgia possession.
“I’ve said all along I think Todd is by far the best player in the country when he’s healthy and he’s out there,” quarterback Aaron Murray said a couple of weeks ago, when Gurley returned to practice after missing three games. “What he’s able to do not only in the run game but in the pass game, too, affects the safeties, affects the linebackers, catching the ball in the backfield. He really changes the game for us offensively.”
In the LSU game, Georgia’s offensive output up until the play Gurley got hurt was 192 yards on 23 plays. The rest of the game, it was 302 yards on 47 plays.
Even a not-quite-perfect Gurley is better than none at all, especially with top backup Marshall out for the season with an ACL injury.
Saturday’s game seemed quiet for Gurley -- “only” 75 yards on 13 carries, a long run of 13 yards. But as head coach Mark Richt pointed out, it was still pretty good.
“Gurley averaged about, what, 5.8? That’s not bad if you average that for a whole season,” Richt said.
Auburn (8-1) has only been outrushed by two opponents this year. It lost to LSU and barely beat Mississippi State at home.
So a big key for Georgia (6-3) in pulling off the upset would seem to be riding its star tailback, having Gurley not only move the Bulldogs’ offense but keep the prolific Tigers’ offense off the field.
Gurley was asked Saturday if he felt he could be 100 percent for the game.
“I don’t know. I mean nobody’s ever 100 percent,” he said. “But we’ll see about that when it happens.”
The Bulldogs will take whatever they can get from him.
“He’s a bulldozer; he’s a competitor,” Murray said. “He’s not 100 percent, and guys are encouraging him, pushing him. But he’s always like that. He was like that last year; he is this year. It’s a tough position, especially at this school when you know you’re going to get it 25, 30 times a game. You’re going to get pounded. This is a league that the guys on defense are pretty big, and you’re taking a pounding all year long. He’s just fighting and fighting. We just have to get him as healthy as we can the rest of the year.”
Georgia ranked, chosen by CBS
After a three-week hiatus from the rankings and a two-week hiatus from CBS, Georgia is back on both.
The Bulldogs came in at No. 25 in this week’s Associated Press poll. But they just missed out on the coaches’ poll, the first team left out of the top 25.
CBS selected the Auburn-Georgia game for its marquee 3:30 p.m. slot. It will be the fourth time this year the Bulldogs have been on that network.