ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Georgia is not concerned about carrying on without Todd Gurley.
The ninth-ranked Bulldogs already know they have a pretty good replacement back.
Still, Gurley’s season-ending knee injury – in his first game back from a four-game suspension for violating NCAA rules – was a stunning blow to his teammates, who were looking forward to No. 3 closing out his college career in style.
Article continues below ...
”It hurts,” offensive lineman Kolton Houston said Monday evening, after the Bulldogs practiced for 90 minutes in windy conditions with temperatures plunging into the 30s. ”Life’s not fair.”
Since no one expects Gurley to return for his senior season, he’ll likely finish as Georgia’s second-leading rusher, trailing only Herschel Walker, but with a definite sense that his career could have been so much more.
After rushing for nearly 1,400 yards as a freshman, Gurley missed three games and parts of several others during his sophomore year because of a lingering ankle injury. A brilliant start this season made him the top contender for the Heisman Trophy, but those hopes were snuffed out when he acknowledged receiving some $3,000 for autographs and memorabilia over a two-year period.
The NCAA imposed a four-game suspension, and said it would have been more if not for Gurley’s honesty and Georgia’s quick response.
With freshman Nick Chubb carrying the load, Georgia won three games while Gurley was out. Even when he returned for last Saturday’s 34-7 victory over Auburn, Chubb continued to get a large share of the carries.
Chubb rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns, while Gurley ran for 138 yards and a score (in addition to having a 105-yard kickoff return called back by a holding penalty).
But, with just over 5 minutes remaining, Gurley went down on a routine-looking play near the Auburn end zone. He sustained a torn ACL, ending his season when it was just getting re-started.
”We’re not really worried about the team,” cornerback Damian Swann said. ”We’re worried about Todd as a person. You never want that to happen to anyone, especially someone who is arguably one of the best players in college football.”
Chubb is not too shabby, either, having already rushed for more 1,000 yards and setting himself up to take the lead role the rest of the season.
He certainly has the full confidence of his teammates.
”Chubb is not a freshman running back anymore,” Houston said. ”He’s a veteran guy now. He’s got some serious touches in some serious ballgames.”
The Bulldogs are hoping for the return of another impressive freshman, Sony Michel, who has been sidelined with shoulder and ankle injuries. If he’s healthy, the Bulldogs will be able to share the carries a little more equitably – much as they had hoped to do with Gurley and Chubb.
”We have a lot of running backs,” lineman John Theus said. ”We’re not too worried about it. Whoever is back there, we produce. That’s what we’re going to keep doing.”
The Bulldogs (8-2, 6-2) are still hopeful of reaching the Southeastern Conference championship game, but they’ll need a little help from either Tennessee or Arkansas.
If either of those schools beats Missouri in the next two weeks, Georgia clinches the SEC East. If not, the Bulldogs will be left to ponder two losses that cost them a shot at the conference title – and perhaps the national championship.
Georgia lost early in the season to South Carolina, a team that has won only three of seven games since then. Then, after regaining the upper hand in the division race with a 34-0 rout of Missouri, the Bulldogs inexplicably were blown out by Florida, which just fired coach Will Muschamp for another subpar season.
”We could easily be undefeated right now,” Swann said. ”We let two games get away that we shouldn’t have lost. That just goes back to being consistent every week. You’ve got to play the right kind of football every week in this conference if you’re going to be dominant. We didn’t do that. Now we have our fate in someone else’s hands.”
The Bulldogs don’t have much hope of slipping into college football’s new four-team playoff, even if they win their next two games and pull off a major upset, most likely against Alabama, in the SEC championship game.
”Maybe if there was a computer (selection) system,” Houston said. ”But I don’t see humans putting us over a one-loss team.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963