Missouri vs. Georgia: Do Bulldogs Need Todd Gurley to Beat the Tigers?

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistOctober 8, 2013

Sep 28, 2013; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley (center without jersey) shown on the sideline after leaving the game with an injury during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Georgia defeated LSU 44-41. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

If some teams are bit by the injury bug, losing key pieces here and there throughout the season, Georgia's offense has been bit by the "injury whatever this thing is."

Among the Bulldogs' offensive casualties are running back Keith Marshall, receiver Malcolm Mitchell and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley, three key contributors who have all been ruled out for the season

On top of that, Michael Bennettanother proven receiveris dealing with a torn meniscus and has already been declared out for Saturday's game with undefeated Missouri.

In light of those losses, Georgia fans were hoping for the quick return of all-world running back Todd Gurley, who missed last week's game with ankle problems. But instead, on Tuesday afternoon, they were treated to this sobering news from head coach Mark Richt:

If Gurley is indeed forced out of action, quarterback Aaron Murray will be left on a veritable island against a Missouri team that might be better than everyone thinks.

Is that a situation that Georgia might botch?

Let's get this out of the way. No, Georgia does not need Gurley to beat the Tigers on Saturday. The only player it needs is healthy, taking snaps under center and playing the best football of his career.

But the Dawgs would be wise not to paper over this game. Even if Gurley isn't instrumental to beating Missouri, his presence would be a big help and his absence could be lethal.

Though Missouri hasn't been tested this year—unless you still, for some reason, think Vanderbilt is good—it's almost certainly better than it was in 2012. And that team, while 5-7 on the year, gave Georgia a genuine scare in Week 1:

The Bulldogs defense has done little to inspire confidence this season. It's made timely stops in a couple of important situations, but for the most part, even dreadful offenses like Tennessee have found some holes to exploit.

Missouri walks into Athens with a rejuvenated James Franklin at quarterback, a two-headed monster of Henry Josey and Russell Hansbrough in the backfield, and a pair of physical specimens in Dorial Green-Beckham and L'Damian Washington on the outside.

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 5: Rajion Neal #20 of the Tennessee Volunteers carries the ball for a 2nd half touchdown against the Georgia Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Home-field advantage be damned: If Tennessee can hang 31 points on Georgia, Missouri should be able to coast toward that number.

Which means that Georgia, in turn, will have to score some points of its own. That has never been a problem in the Murray era, but if Gurley gets tacked onto the injury report, there is reason to believe it might be.

As good as Murray looked on the game-tying drive last week, that entire series felt like pulling teeth. There was nothing smooth or aesthetically pleasing about how Georgia moved the ball; there was a palpable dread that it actually might not score.

How many times can the offense be expected to do that on Saturday? How many plodding drives can it string together and turn into points?

If freshman J.J. Green can't get going on the ground, and only Chris Conley exists as a true receiving threat, will UGA be able to keep up with such a talented offense?

Some fans would argue yes, pointing to the fact that Missouri has allowed 295 passing yards per game (11th-worst in the FBS) against quarterbacks far worse than Murray:

But those numbers are inflated. The Tigers have taken big, early leads in almost all of their games, forcing the opposition to throw more than it would like.

So yes, despite playing only five games, Missouri has given up the most passing yards in the SEC. That can't be denied. But it's also faced the most attempts.

In the first quarter of games this year—when the Tigers have yet to take their patented, commanding lead—Missouri has allowed just 290 passing yards on 59 attempts, a scant average of 4.9 yards per throw. Its opponent QB rating of 105.02 is second-lowest in the SEC, 10 points behind first-place Tennessee and 73 points ahead of last-place Georgia.

This won't be as simple as it seems.

Angry over a perceived lack of respect, Missouri will come out playing like it's the SEC Championship Game. Georgia, meanwhile, is coming off a string of hard-fought wins and emotionally taxing road trips.

To avoid a letdown, there is nothing better than having a guy like Gurley who can move the chains at will. Especially when the rest of the offense is missing, a strong running game is a quarterback's best friend.

Georgia is favored to win on Saturday, and if I had to pick, the Dawgs would still be my choice. Should Gurley stay out of the lineup, though, I wouldn't feel that good about it.

And neither should you.



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