Gator Bowl features pair of big-time running backs

Georgia and Nebraska are playing with backup quarterbacks – all

the more reason to focus on two of the top running backs in the

country.

Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah could make

the Gator Bowl a ground-and-pound celebration on New Year’s

Day.

Gurley, a 6-foot-1, 232-pound sophomore, has 903 yards rushing

and 10 touchdowns despite missing three-plus games with an ankle

injury. He needs 93 yards on the ground against the Cornhuskers on

Wednesday to become the third player in school history with

consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Herschel Walker (1980-83) and

Knowshon Moreno (2007-08) also accomplished the feat.

Abdullah, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior, has 1,568 yards and

eight touchdowns. Only three Cornhuskers – Mike Rozier, Ahman Green

and Lawrence Phillips – have enjoyed better single seasons than

Abdullah.

”There’s no doubt they’re both great backs,” Nebraska coach Bo

Pelini said. ”They’re different. They have different styles,

obviously built differently. … But great players come in a lot of

different shapes and sizes and a lot of different skill sets.”

The 23rd-ranked Bulldogs (8-4) and Cornhuskers (8-4) likely will

rely on both in the Gator Bowl, a rematch of last year’s Capital

One Bowl in Orlando.

Georgia is playing its second consecutive game without four-year

starter Aaron Murray, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in

his left knee against Kentucky on Nov. 23. Nebraska’s Taylor

Martinez, meanwhile, was limited to four games this season because

of a left foot injury.

Without Murray, Gurley ran 20 times for 122 yards and three

touchdowns in a 41-34 double-overtime victory against Georgia Tech.

He also caught four passes for 36 yards and a score.

”We have a lot of respect for Gurley,” said Pelini, whose

defense allowed Gurley to run for 125 yards and a touchdown last

year. ”He’s a heck of a football player with his size and his

strength. He can do a lot of different things in the running game

and the passing game.”

So can Abdullah, who has 51 career receptions for 421 yards and

four TDs.

”He’s a solid dude, a real tough, physical runner,” Georgia

defensive end Garrison Smith said. ”The guy can really play

football, a hard-nosed guy, gets after it, has great vision, can

cut back. We’ve got our hands full. He’s a problem `cause he’s such

a talented back.”

Aside from the star running backs, here are five things to know

about Georgia and Nebraska heading into the Gator Bowl.

KEY INJURIES: Not only did both teams lost QBs, the offenses

were devastated by injuries. Georgia lost running back Keith

Marshall as well as receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael

Bennett. Nebraska played much of the year without All-Big Ten guard

Spencer Long and receiver Jamal Turner. ”When you face things like

that – tough times as the season goes on – winning eight games

isn’t easy,” Pelini said. ”I don’t think people understand that

or realize that.”

SUSPENSIONS: Georgia will be without safety Josh Harvey-Clemons

and cornerback Sheldon Dawson, both suspended for violating team

rules. It’s the second suspension for the Harvey-Clemons, who also

sat out the season opener against Clemson for violating the

athletic program’s marijuana-use policy.

MASON’S ENCORE: With Murray out, junior Hutson Mason will make

his second career start. Mason completed 22 of 36 passes for 299

yards, with two touchdowns and an interception, against Georgia

Tech. ”That’s why you come to Georgia: to play these types of

games,” Mason said.

GREGORY STANDS OUT: When Georgia watched Nebraska on video,

defensive end Randy Gregory stood out – and not just because he’s

6-6 and 255 pounds. Gregory leads the Big Ten with 9 1/2 sacks,

stops that earned him the team’s defensive MVP award. ”Gregory is

about as close as you can get to an SEC defensive end,” Georgia

tight end Arthur Lynch said. ”It will be a personal challenge for

me.”

BOBO FINALE? Richt declined to say whether offensive coordinator

Mike Bobo has spoken with Georgia Southern about its head coaching

opening. ”The only thing I’ll comment on that is I think it’s a

compliment to Georgia, to Mike Bobo,” Richt said. ”When people do

excellent work, people notice it. … So I’m not shocked that

Mike’s getting some attention in that regard.” Under Bobo, Georgia

is on pace to set school records for scoring and total offense for

the second straight season.