Oct 4, 2014; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley (3) runs against Vanderbilt Commodores defensive back Torren McGaster (5) during the second half at Sanford Stadium.
ATHENS, Ga. (C+P) — Last week Todd Gurley was suspended indefinitely as the Bulldogs headed into a pivotal conference game against Missouri. Many people began questioning whether Georgia could win without Gurley in the backfield. However, they seemed to have no problem dealing with the Heisman front-runner’s absence as they beat Missouri 34-0 on the road. With no timetable for his return, Georgia will need to continue to be successful without Gurley.
It appears that Georgia will continue to rely on the run game even without Gurley in the lineup. With three backs inactive against Missouri, the Bulldogs still managed to run for 210 yards on 58 carries. Freshman Nick Chubb carried most of the load running the ball 38 times for 143 yards and a touchdown. Chubb averaged 7.23 yards per carry in the five previous games, so this success was not too much of a surprise for Georgia fans.
Brendan Douglas filled in nicely in his second game running the ball for the Bulldogs this season. Douglas had 13 carries for 65 yards and one touchdown. While he is known for running through opponents, he surprised fans Saturday by diving over a defender on a 15-yard touchdown run that gave Georgia a 27-0 lead.
Georgia’s inability to stretch the defense with the passing game is one of the main reasons for the high number of carries for the running backs. Mason averaged 5.6 yards per pass attempt while completing 22 of his 28 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. His longest completion of the game was a 14-yard pass to Michael Bennett. These struggles throwing the ball down the field are nothing new for the Georgia offense this season. Mason averages 6.5 yards per pass attempt which ranks 88th in the nation. Given the lack of long passing plays generated by the Bulldogs, the running game will need to continue to carry the team.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs even if Gurley doesn’t return this season, two of their other running backs should return from injuries in time for the Florida game. Junior Keith Marshall injured his right ankle and knee against Tennessee sidelining him for the past three games. However, there is potential for Marshall to return this weekend for the Arkansas game.
“If Keith’s not ready this week I feel like he’d be ready for Florida,” Mark Richt said in an interview with the Macon Telegraph.
Although he has struggled this season, his return will give the Bulldogs more depth at running back and take some of the load off Chubb. Also, freshman Sony Michel is expected to return in time for the Florida game. Michel went down against Tennessee as well, breaking his shoulder blade sidelining him for 4-6 weeks. This projects his return to be in time for the Bulldogs game against Florida November 1.
If Gurley’s suspension continues, Michel’s return will be the most valuable for the Bulldogs. Before his injury, he was the team’s second best rusher, carrying the ball 23 times for 223 yards and three touchdowns. Michel led the team with an average of 9.7 yards per carry this season. His insertion back into the lineup will enable the Bulldogs to run the ball effectively regardless if Gurley returns.
The Bulldogs survived one game without Gurley, but if his suspension continues they will need to do it a second time on the road against Arkansas this Saturday. This is a must win for Georgia if they are going to maintain their lead in the SEC East.