ATHENS — Todd Gurley’s heralded return to the Georgia football team only lasted one game, and now the star tailback’s college career likely has ended.
Gurley tore the ACL in his left knee Saturday night, ending his season. He figures to finish his career as the second-leading rusher in program history, behind only Herschel Walker.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt, speaking Sunday evening, had trouble coming up with the words to describe his reaction.
“It’s a ...,” Richt started, pausing for a sigh. “Sad news. Sad news.”
The injury is a another tough break for Gurley and his team, as the Auburn game was his first game back after serving a four-game suspension. Gurley was a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy when he was suspended Oct. 9 for accepting money for autographs.
“No pain, no gain,” Gurley tweeted Sunday afternoon.
It was his first tweet since Aug. 29.
Despite only playing in six games, Gurley finishes the season with 932 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, as well as 12 receptions for 57 yards. He passed Garrison Hearst on Georgia’s all-time rushing list during Saturday’s game.
A junior with one year of college eligibility remaining, Gurley long has been expected to declare for the NFL draft. It’s not clear how the injury will effect his draft status, but at this point, it would be a surprise if he returned to school for his final year.
“Todd’s been fantastic,” Richt said. “Without a doubt one of the best run backs I’ve ever seen, have ever coached. Practiced hard, played hard. Loved the big games and played his heart out for Georgia. I’m really proud I had an opportunity to coach him.”
Gurley suffered the injury with 5:21 left in Georgia’s 34-7 win over Auburn, in which Gurley rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown. Gurley was hurt on a run in which he did not appear to be hit by anybody. He hit the ground after his run and grabbed his knee. Georgia had a 27-7 lead at the time, but Richt said there was no discussion of pulling Gurley (or any starters) out of the game, as the coaches were wary of Auburn’s explosive offense.
“Even a year ago, we’re down 21 in the fourth and come back (at Auburn),” Richt said. “They have an explosive offense, and we were just trying to seal the deal.”
Georgia still has freshman Nick Chubb, who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season during Saturday’s game. Fellow freshman Sony Michel missed the game with an ankle injury but should be ready to go soon, if not Saturday against Charleston Southern but the following week against Georgia Tech.
Georgia (8-2 overall, 6-2 SEC) rose to No. 9 in the AP poll Sunday and retains an outside chance at getting into the College Football Playoff. The Bulldogs are hoping to make the SEC championship game, which will require Missouri losing one of its final two games.
Keith Marshall, the junior tailback who joined the program with Gurley, has not played the past seven games after hurting his ankle and knee. Marshall is eligible for a medical redshirt, and things have appeared headed in that direction the past couple of weeks. It’s unlikely that the decision would be revisited now, given how well Chubb is playing and the presence of Michel and sophomore Brendan Douglas.
Richt said any contingency plans at tailback had not been discussed yet, as the coaches had been busy recruiting all Sunday.
This is the second straight year that Georgia has lost a star offensive player to an ACL tear late in the season. Quarterback Aaron Murray tore his ACL in last year’s home finale against Kentucky.
Murray wasn’t able to participate in the NFL’s scouting combine but did throw for scouts during Georgia’s pro day the following April. He was picked in the fifth round by the Kansas City Chiefs but has yet to play this season.
The timing will also make it hard for Gurley to participate in the combine, and Georgia’s pro day would also be difficult. The hope would be that NFL teams are confident in his rehab and don’t drop him very far down their boards. He had been considered a sure first-round pick.
Richt said he didn’t know for sure that Gurley was still planning on going pro but indicated that the staff had been planning for it in recruiting.
“We’ve been projecting that there was a possibility that he would leave, so it really won’t change our thoughts,” Richt said.