Gurley, Chubb could help UGA wreak havoc on College Football Playoff
ATHENS, Ga. -- The return of Todd Gurley to the Georgia attack did more than get one of the nation's top rushers back on the field. It may have created the most dynamic duo of ball carriers in the country.
Gurley and freshman Nick Chubb looked as if they could run through walls on Saturday. And with a combined 290 yards on the ground, the definitely ran through the Auburn defense.
Chubb did more than hold down the fort during Gurley's four-game suspension, gaining 671 yards on the ground and scoring five touchdowns. He averaged 167.75 yards per game, and never dipped below 143 (a 38-carry day in Missouri). When Gurley returned for the Auburn game, even head coach Mark Richt warned that he'd return to his usual role.
"First offensive play, you'll see Gurley," Richt said during his radio show on Monday. "I can promise you that. Todd Gurley is the starting tailback."
Chubb will have to wait to be the man in Athens.
But until then, he can still play a big role for the Dawgs.
Auburn had a tough time bringing Chubb to the ground. Richt praised his rookie rusher as a powerful runner who also did a great job at changing lanes. "Once he gets a head of steam, it's difficult to bring him down with one person."
Gurley led all ball carriers on Saturday with 146 yards, though he did leave the game in the fourth with a knee injury and might have gone to a hospital for an X-ray.
Chubb wasn't far behind with 144 yards. Whichever back had the ball, he looked unstoppable. And their efforts helped the Georgia offense look as efficient as it has all season.
It looked so good, the thought of Georgia playing meaningful games in December and January is now back on the minds of folks around the South. And that's crazy considering the Dawgs are 8-2 (6-2 in the SEC) and were left for dead when they lost to Florida on Nov. 1.
As it stands, Georgia still needs help if it wants to play in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri currently holds the SEC East's invite to the title game.
But Georgia thumped the Tigers 34-0 on Oct. 11, and would hold the tiebreaker if Missouri loses another SEC game. The Dawgs are in the SEC clubhouse at 6-2; they only have games against Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech -- both non-conference matchups -- left on their schedule.
With a trip to Tennessee (who just beat Kentucky 50-16) and a game against Arkansas (who upset No. 17 LSU on Saturday) still left for Missouri, Georgia could still get its shot at a trip to Atlanta for the title game. The Dawgs just need Missouri to drop a game.
"If Missouri wins three games in a row, they deserve it," said Richt before he knew the outcome of the Missouri-Texas A&M game. Now the Tigers only need two more.
If Missouri does slip up, the Georgia team that just walloped Auburn 34-7 looked good enough to not only give the SEC West champion a good game, but beat them.
When Alabama beat Mississippi State earlier on Saturday, it landed both teams in the one-loss club. Alabama holds the tiebreaker and would currently win the SEC West if the season ended today. The Tide might also climb into the ranks of the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday.
But Alabama would have to play really well to beat Georgia if the Dawgs keep playing like they did against Auburn.
Georgia won the time of possession battle, averaged 5.6 yards per carry, scored 14 points off Auburn turnovers and was 6 for 6 in the red zone. The Dawgs were so powerful inside the 20-yard line because it was next to impossible to stop Gurley or Chubb. And if neither Georgia running back crossed the goal line, the Auburn defense was so concerned with them that quarterback Hutson Mason was able to throw the football for points.
While Georgia's output on offense was impressive, what it did on defense was as much a reason for success.
Auburn came into the contest ranked third in the SEC in scoring at 38.7 points per game. But the Georgia defense, after it gave up a touchdown on the opening drive, completely shut down the Tigers.
The Dawgs did a good job of holding Auburn in check on first down throughout the game. That made moving the chains difficult for the Tigers because of the distance on third-down plays. Auburn only notched 17 first downs. Georgia moved the chains 27 times.
Credit linebacker Amarlo Herrera for a fourth-quarter interception near the end zone that helped keep Auburn points off the board. He also led the Dawgs with 12 tackles and a tackle for loss. Under his leadership, Georgia's defense held the Tigers to zero points in the final 55:52 of the game.
Georgia stymied a great Auburn offense, holding quarterback Nick Marshall, running back Cameron Artis Payne, and the rest of the team to 292 total yards, the lowest total in the Gus Malzahn era. This is an offense that tallied 500 or more total yards in a game five times this season; and those were all against SEC opponents.
Georgia's complete game should scare the likes of any SEC West team it might meet for the conference title.
"We've just gotta keep winning and find ourselves in Atlanta," Richt said in response to whether he felt Saturday's win measure on a national scale. "I just don't know if that'll happen."
And if the Dawgs were to make it the championship game -- and win it -- the College Football Playoff committee would have tough decisions to make.
Georgia might not have enough of a resume for an invitation to the four-team playoff. But beating Alabama or Mississippi State in the title game could knock them out too.
If the West keeps feasting on itself, and Georgia plays like the juggernaut it looked like on Saturday to win the SEC title, havoc would ensue.
It could create a worst-case scenario for the SEC.
How would the College Football Playoff committee respond?
But Georgia will have no say in the chaos if no one beats Missouri.