ATHENS - This time, the loss of Todd Gurley has not brought anger and chippiness from his teammates, eager to prove they can without him. Having proven they can, this time the main concern is Gurley himself.
"We're not really worried about the team, we're worried about Todd the person," senior cornerback Damian Swann said. "You never want that to happen to anybody, especially not a guy who's arguably one of the best players in college football right now."
Swann put Gurley's injury, an ACL tear that ended his season and could damage his NFL draft position, in context with the fact he had just served a four-game suspension.
"Almost a guaranteed first-round pick, he could have taken the money and ran," Swann said. "But he came back, he wanted to be with us, and we respect him for it, we love him for it. I think he made the decision to come back and be with his brothers. He caught a tough break when that happened. It's just like Aaron (Murray) last year, it's pretty much the same thing. We know how hard it is. But Todd's a tough guy, he'll bounce back."
That is helped by the news, which head coach Mark Richt passed along on Monday night, that Gurley did not have any additional damage other than the ACL. It's similar to Murray's injury at about the same time last year, and he was able to participate in Georgia's pro day six months later, a month before the draft.
Gurley, a junior, is expected to enter the draft despite the injury.
"His future is very, very bright," Richt said.
Junior tackle John Theus was suitemates with Gurley during their freshman year.
"It's a lot of adversity, but if anything will be all right it'll be him. He's a tough kid," Theus said. "We hate to see it, especially for him coming back after that suspension, and having that happen to him. You don't want to see it happen to him, but to see it happen to him is tough."
The one thing the players didn't seem worried about was production at tailback. That's for good reason: Freshman Nick Chubb, now the SEC's second-leading rusher, was named the SEC freshman of the week for the fourth time this season. Fellow freshman Sony Michel practiced on Monday, and Richt said he had a good chance of playing Saturday against Charleston Southern if he continued to progress.
"No matter what's happened this year we've been able to produce on the field, so that's what we're gonna keep doing," Theus said.
Leonard Floyd, normally an outside linebacker, looked a bit out of place when he played the star position in two of Georgia’s games last year. But he looked a lot better there Saturday against Auburn.
The move was a surprise, as defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt had vowed before the season to use defensive backs at the star, and had stuck to it the first nine games. But he put Floyd there against Auburn’s high-powered offense, geared heavily against the run. And it was part of the reason the Bulldogs held Auburn to its season-low for yards and points.
Floyd had Georgia’s only sack, helped contain the outside run, and he thinks his mere presence helped take Auburn out of one of its preferred passing plays.
“I felt like I made it harder for them to throw the bubble screens to the sideline,” Floyd said. “I felt like I made that harder for them. Pretty much everyone on defense made it harder for them, period.”
Ramik Wilson, Georgia’s senior inside linebacker, gave the Floyd-at-star move a clear thumbs-up.
“He looked great. He needs to stay there,” Wilson said. “That’s my opinion.”
Wilson said that Floyd could also play safety.
“Leonard’s a great player. We need him out there,” he said.
The punter as the passer
The best pass of Adam Erickson’s career – actually the only pass – won’t appear in the official stat books. But he’s okay with that.
Erickson, a senior punter, completed a 41-yard pass to Shakenneth Williams on Georgia’s first drive on Saturday. But it was called back because of an illegal man downfield penalty, which the Bulldogs still aren’t sure was a penalty.
Erickson said he doesn’t get robbed.
“It’s the nature of the game. Whether he missed the call or made the right one, it’s out of my hands,” he said. “I’m just glad we got the win, honestly. I can tell my grandkids there was no flag, it doesn’t really matter.”
Erickson’s pass looked pretty good, especially for someone without any history at quarterback. The last time he played it was in a Pee Wee league, and that was only briefly.
“I guess they saw me throwing it around sometimes in practice and we installed it,” Erickson said.