Florida’s preparation remains same vs. Gurley-less Georgia

Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley ran for 100 yards and caught a 73-yard touchdown pass against the Gators last year. He will not play in this Saturday's game due to a suspension.

Rob Foldy

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If you strip down the hyperbole and glowing accolades and message board fanaticism surrounding Georgia tailback Todd Gurley, reduce all of the overstatement to its core, a telling truth still emerges.

In his three seasons at Georgia, the 6-foot-1, 232-pound Gurley has made a strong case for those supporters who claim he is the best Bulldogs tailback since Herschel Walker, whom happens to be regarded by many (and statistically supported) as the best in Southeastern Conference history.

So, considering the above, news Wednesday morning that Gurley won’t play Saturday against the Gators due to a four-game suspension from the NCAA should have the Gators rejoicing at their good fortune.

Not exactly.

Say what?

"The running back they have right now, Nick Chubb, he’s just almost the same," Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis said Wednesday afternoon. "He’s just maybe a little bit shorter. That’s it. He’s a great back, too. He puts up a lot of yards and he runs physical just like Todd Gurley. We have to take the same approach this week as we would if Todd Gurley was playing."

With Gurley absent the last two games while an investigation unfolded concerning Gurley profiting from autographed memorabilia — an NCAA violation — the Bulldogs haven’t missed a step.

Backing him up

A freshman from Cedartown, Georgia, Chubb did something in Georgia’s 45-32 win at Arkansas on Oct. 18 that not Gurley nor any other Bulldogs running back has done since Rodney Hampton in 1987: rush for 200 yards as a true freshman. Chubb scorched the Razorbacks for 202 yards a week after carrying 38 times for 143 yards in his debut as a starter in Georgia’s 34-0 win at Missouri.

Chubb already had the Gators’ attention prior to the NCAA’s ruling Wednesday morning that Gurley accepted more than $3,000 in cash over the past two years and must sit out four games, hence why he won’t be back for Saturday’s game like the Gators expected.

Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is well aware of how dangerous Gurley is. In last season’s 23-20 loss to the Bulldogs, Gurley rushed for 100 yards on 17 carries and caught a 73-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter that opened a 14-0 lead for Georgia.

Still, Durkin has no plans to revamp the defensive game plan with Gurley not playing.

"They still run the same offense," Durkin said. "Their scheme really hasn’t changed with him being out. Obviously, we’ve had the benefit of seeing some games with him out. They’ve got some really good running backs besides him."

Gators coach Will Muschamp said the Gators recruited Chubb coming out of high school. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Chubb rushed for more than 2,500 yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior last season at Cedartown High.

While Gurley is bigger with more top-end speed, Chubb has proven shifty and hard to bring down on first contact.

"Nick Chubb has done an outstanding job filling in while Todd has been gone," Muschamp said. "It doesn’t affect our preparation."

The same can be said for Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who after winning just twice against Florida in his first 10 seasons, has won three in a row over the Gators.

To continue that streak, the Bulldogs likely will rely heavily on Chubb the way they have the past two games. What they can’t do is get caught up in the news Gurley won’t be back for Florida.

"Right now we’re really not worried about it," Richt said on the SEC media teleconference Wednesday. "We’re just focused on getting ready for this game. We can only control certain things. The goal is to control how hard we practice and how hard we prepare.

"I think our players have done a pretty good job of worrying about things they can control and doing what they can do to get a victory."

Chubb is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has 569 yards rushing for a Georgia team that ranks third in the SEC in rushing offense (265.9 yards per game). Meanwhile, the Gators are surrendering just 117.7 yards per game on the ground, which is good for third in the conference.

Multiple Gators spoke Tuesday about relishing the opportunity to face Gurley, a Heisman hopeful before his suspension who continues to lead the SEC in rushing.

"I really want him to play," junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. "He’s a great player and great players bring great competition out of you."

In the wake of Wednesday’s news, Fowler and his teammates can still expect some great competition trying to defend Georgia’s rushing attack. However, instead of a No. 3 jersey, they will be after the guy wearing No. 27.