Georgia sophomore Todd Gurley has proven he can put the team first and, when needed, the team on his back.
Yet he's a tailback, and every tailback dreams of a 1,000-yard season. Gurley rushed for 1,385 yards last season and has a chance at the accomplishment again this year despite missing a month with a sprained ankle.
"Heck, yeah, I've thought of that," a smiling Gurley said. "Hopefully I can get it, but I don't know. If we can win these last two games, I'll be happy with whatever."
Gurley has rushed for 781 yards and 6.3 yards a carry despite missing entire games against Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt and chunks of games against Clemson, LSU and Florida. The 6-foot-1, 232-pounder from Tarboro, N.C., has not carried the ball more than 17 times in any game since returning from injury, but he's catching more passes than ever before.
His 15 receptions the past two weeks against Auburn and Kentucky nearly match the 16 he had all last season.
"He's not getting a lot of rushes, but he's getting a lot of touches," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He delivers punishment, but at the same time, those licks take a toll on a guy. We need him out there, though, because he makes a big difference."
Gurley needs to average 109.5 rushing yards Saturday at Georgia Tech, when quarterback Hutson Mason makes his first career start, and in the bowl game to join Herschel Walker and Knowshon Moreno as the only Bulldogs with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Bobo would love to see it, but it's not at the top of his play-calling priorities.
"He's a special guy, but with us being down on depth at the running back position, we've got to be careful," Bobo said. "We really can't ride him to 25 or 30 carries, and we've got to get him to the fourth quarter. He's answered the bell every time we've asked him to, and he'll continue to this week, I'm sure."
A 1,000-yard season seemed a formality for Gurley when he opened with 154 yards at Clemson and 132 against visiting South Carolina. He had 73 yards on eight carries in the fourth game against LSU on Sept. 28, but he sprained his ankle on the eighth carry, a 23-yard gain, and hobbled off the field.
Gurley traveled with the team for October games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, receiving treatment on his ankle and offering support to teammates, but he didn't return to action until the Nov. 2 showdown against Florida in Jacksonville.
"I didn't know it was going to be that long," Gurley said.
Bobo credits running backs coach Bryan McClendon for limiting Gurley's workload in practice while having him prepared each weekend. When asked what is ailing Gurley the most, Bobo said it's a combination of his ankle, the lack of conditioning after missing a month, and the wear and tear that accompanies being a tailback in the SEC.
Gurley has rushed 53 times for 331 yards since his return, with that 6.2-yard average essentially matching his average before he went down.
"He's getting healthier, but he's not still 100 percent," Bobo said. "Game by game, you kind of see him getting more explosive and getting his speed back a little bit. He's just got to keep getting better, and it's going to take a while.
"I don't know if he'll be 100 percent until the bowl game or maybe next year, but he's a tough kid."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...