Todd Gurley was a leading Heisman Trophy contender before his four-game suspension. Now that he’s returning for No. 16 Georgia (No. 20 CFP, No. 16 AP) against Auburn (No. 3, No. 9) this week, it’s no lock he’ll even be a starter.
Gurley’s replacement, Nick Chubb, has made a strong case to keep the job.
Chubb ran for 170 yards and a touchdown Saturday in a 63-31 victory over Kentucky. He had 143 or more yards in each of his four games as Gurley’s replacement.
Coach Mark Richt’s task of determining playing time for the tailbacks became more difficult when Sony Michel returned from a shoulder injury with 84 yards rushing against Kentucky.
Richt said Sunday he and his assistants have not picked a starting tailback against Auburn.
“We haven’t even talked about that yet,” Richt said. “Obviously, both those guys will play and we’ll see how Sony is doing. I think he came out of the game pretty good, too. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more than just Nick and Todd in the ballgame at that running back position. Early in the year we did a good job of giving guys reps and hopefully we can continue to do that.”
The NCAA suspended Gurley for taking $3,000 for autographed memorabilia and other items over two years. Georgia (7-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) was 3-1 without Gurley, losing to Florida two weeks ago.
Gurley’s suspension, followed by Georgia’s investigation of the allegations he sold autographs and its appeal for his reinstatement, overshadowed other issues for the Bulldogs for the last month. The NCAA upheld the four-game suspension on Oct. 30, when it denied Georgia’s appeal to have the punishment reduced to two games.
Richt said he didn’t discuss the matter with the team after the initial suspension was announced. He worked to keep the suspension from becoming a distraction and said Sunday he’s relieved it’s finally over.
“We’re glad he’s back and we’re looking forward to seeing him play,” Richt said. “I’ll be glad to have this thing over with, no doubt.”
While others have speculated it may be difficult for Richt to remove Chubb as the starter, the freshman said after Saturday’s game he believes the job belongs to Gurley.
“I know I haven’t taken his spot,” Chubb said. “I am looking forward to Todd getting back on the field and playing with him. I miss him out there.”
Chubb handled a majority share of the carries for most of Gurley’s suspension. He said having Michel return after missing four games with the shoulder injury “took a lot off of my shoulders.”
Now that Gurley also is back, Chubb said he’s looking forward to again being part of a deep corps of running backs.
“I cannot wait,” Chubb said. “It will keep all of us fresh and ready to go.”
Gurley, a junior, continued to practice with the team during the suspension, though he didn’t have his normal reps with the first-team offense.
Richt said he doesn’t expect Gurley to have any difficulty adjusting to his first game action since Oct. 4 against Vanderbilt.
“We think he’s definitely got fresh legs,” Richt said. “I think he stayed in really good condition during the time he wasn’t playing. I don’t think you forget how to play football in five weeks or forget how to run it the way he runs it or the way he pass-protects or catches balls out of the backfield and all that. I think it’ll come back to him pretty quick.”
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — No Todd Gurley? No problem for Georgia.
This time, anyway.
Freshman Nick Chubb rushed 38 times for 143 yards and one touchdown as the 13th-ranked Bulldogs shut out No. 23 Missouri 34-0. Georgia (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) wore down the Tigers (4-2, 1-1) early, possessing the ball for more than 42 minutes and gaining 379 total yards on 87 plays.
”Everybody said that Georgia was dead without Todd,” Chubb said. ”But we proved that we’re still in it.”
Gurley was suspended indefinitely on Thursday while the school investigates an alleged violation of NCAA rules. It was a stunning blow for Gurley, who had been making a strong case for Heisman contention. The reason for the investigation hasn’t been disclosed, but SI.com reported that Gurley allegedly received $400 to sign 80 pieces of memorabilia on the Georgia campus.
Georgia looked undaunted by his absence – even as fans held up ”Free Gurley” signs from the stands.
”We need to show everybody and show ourselves that there’s 10 other guys on offense that are making this thing go,” quarterback Hutson Mason said.
After two first-quarter field goals by Marshall Morgan, Mason faked a handoff to Chubb before running 11 yards into the end zone with 10:57 remaining in the opening half. The fifth-year senior skipped out of the end zone punching the air, jubilant after entering the game averaging 137.4 passing yards.
Mason found Michael Bennett streaking toward the corner of the end zone for a touchdown five minutes later as Missouri’s first sellout crowd of the season – an attendance of 71,168 – started voicing its displeasure.
Mason backed up Aaron Murray last year. Without Gurley, he’ll be counted on to help lead the team moving forward. He said he’s adopted a new mindset to try and not put too much pressure on himself.
”Not try to get everything right,” he said. ”Just playing off instincts and reacting. That’s what got me here and I think that’s what allows me to play at my highest level.”
Mason finished with 156 yards and one touchdown on 22-of-28 passing.
The Tigers appeared to get something going with three minutes left in the second quarter on offense as they reached Georgia territory for the first time, but linebacker Leonard Floyd hit Maty Mauk’s arm as he was about to throw, forcing Missouri’s first lost fumble of the season.
Down 20-0 entering the break, Missouri showed little improvement in the second half. Mauk threw interceptions to end his team’s first two drives out of the locker room. Georgia’s Brendan Douglas then ran 15 yards for a touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter for a 27-point advantage.
Mauk completed nine of 21 passes for 97 yards and accounted for five turnovers, throwing four interceptions and losing a fumble. The sophomore quarterback said it was the worst game he’s played.
”And I don’t plan on doing it again, either,” he said.
Missouri gained just 147 total yards on 43 plays, and was held scoreless for the first time since 2002. The Tigers finished 0-for-7 on third-down conversions and failed to reach Georgia’s 20-yard line.
Two weeks after erasing a 13-point deficit at South Carolina in the final seven minutes, there would be no comeback this time for Missouri. Chubb punched in the final score with a 9-yard run with 7:46 remaining, as cheers of ”U-G-A” filled an emptying Memorial Stadium.
”We’ve got to get it together, man,” defensive end Markus Golden said. ”It’s one game. You’ve got to move on.”