ATHENS, Ga. -- Saturday's visit to Kentucky will be the ninth game of the season for the Georgia Bulldogs and the fourth without junior tailback Todd Gurley, who was suspended by the NCAA for receiving money for signed memorabilia.
It's the final game Gurley must miss before returning next week when the Bulldogs host Auburn. Georgia won its first two games without the former Heisman Trophy favorite but couldn't claim a third last Saturdfay in Jacksonville, falling 38-20 to Florida.
"I don't think any of us have had the feeling that Todd let us down," senior quarterback Hutson Mason said Tuesday. "It's just kind of one of those things where it's the biggest struggle for college athletes right now. You've got somebody coming up and offering you thousands of dollars, and you don't come from anything or have the money to do the things you want to do.
"As a college athlete, it's hard to say no to that. Everyone just kind of puts himself in Todd's shoes, and no one really knows whether they would say yes or no to that. It's a tough situation to be in."
The Bulldogs won at Missouri and at Arkansas without Gurley, who was suspended by the university on Oct. 9, and then had an open date before learning last week of the NCAA's ruling. Athletic director Greg McGarity said Tuesday that an email was sent to Georgia's compliance office on Oct. 7, and it was followed by a videotape of Gurley in a car that McGarity described as "bothersome."
Georgia appealed the NCAA's decision, but it was quickly denied.
"I'm sure it hurt when he heard that news, because I'm sure there was some hope in there," coach Mark Richt said. "He's practicing really hard with the reps that he's getting. He can't wait to play."
Gurley no longer appears in the SEC rushing stats but would rank sixth with 773 yards. Auburn's Cameron Artis-Payne leads the league with 974 yards, followed by Mississippi State's Josh Robinson (951), Arkansas' Jonathan Williams (877) and Alex Collins (840), and South Carolina's Mike Davis (819).
The closest tailback to Gurley's 8.2 yards per carry is Robinson, who averages 6.8.
"Todd is our guy, and we love him," Mason said. "No one has ever condemned him or felt like he was the reason we lost."
Junior punter Collin Barber had a 60-yard punt in the opener against Clemson, and cornerback Damian Swann downed a Barber punt at the 1-yard line against Tennessee.
Those essentially have been the punting highlights this season for the Bulldogs, who rank last in the SEC with a net average of 35.8 yards. Barber is averaging 39.4 yards on 28 punts, while senior Adam Erickson is averaging 32.7 on nine.
"We're competing this week and deciding who should be the guy to start and who should be the guy in any given situation," Richt said. "Last week was a tough week to gauge punters with the way the wind was going, but we just haven't been getting much field-position change from that position.
"We're not getting it out there as far as we would like, but the good news is that there haven't been many return yards. Still, you've got to flip the field more than 32 yards or whatever it has been lately."
Odds and ends
Georgia guard Greg Pyke on facing the Wildcats: "We were watching film the other day, and it looks like a lot of the runs that we like to run are going to be there." ... Saturday will mark the final game at Commonwealth Stadium before the 62,093-seat facility undergoes $110 million in renovations. ... Richt on junior tight end Jay Rome, who did not play against Florida: "We just felt like the other guys were more prepared to play. He is banged up, but we plan on him being in this game."
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