Georgia Football: Todd Gurley Saves Bulldogs; If He Doesn't Play, Florida Wins

Andrew HallCorrespondent IIINovember 2, 2013

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 02:  Todd Gurley #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs runs for yardage during the game against the Florida Gators at EverBank Field on November 2, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Georgia defeated Florida on Saturday in a game that could be described as the tale of Todd Gurley. After all, without Gurley in the lineup, Georgia would have lost this game.

Out with an ankle injury since the Bulldogs’ September 28 win over LSU, many wondered just how productive Gurley would be when he returned. While conditioning was a factor, Gurley played like the Heisman candidate he was hailed as early in the season. In doing so, he gave Georgia its third consecutive win against its most bitter rival.

Nov 2, 2013; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Florida Gators linebacker Neiron Ball (11) tackles Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley (3) during the second half at EverBank Field. Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Florida Gators 23-20.  Mandatory Credit: Kim Kleme
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

From the onset, it was evident that the sophomore running back was prepared to make up for lost time, and his return to the lineup immediately gave the Dawgs' offense a boost. He scored the first touchdown of the game, with a five-yard run, and that was after contributing a 14-yard reception and a 25-yard run on the Bulldogs' opening drive.

The same offense that seemed stagnant against the pedestrian defenses of Missouri and Vanderbilt was suddenly able to move the ball at will against one of the nation’s best defensive units. Gurley was the difference.

Georgia’s second drive proved to be equally fruitful, and this time, Gurley did all the work. Following a four-yard run on first down, Gurley took an Aaron Murray pass across the middle of the field and raced 73 yards for the longest reception of his career.

Gurley's statistical performance, although impressive, was hardly his lone contribution.  

Even when he was not featured on a play, Gurley remained a factor. The game opened with a read-option keeper by Murray; Gurley was the decoy. Tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome were able to release downfield as receivers more often with Gurley able to stay back in pass protection. As a result, they hauled in a total of three passes for 54 yards—a larger total than any game that Gurley missed.

Gurley’s presence and his production at the beginning of the game proved to be the difference for the Bulldogs. While he missed a large portion because of fatigue, the damage that Gurley inflicted during the game’s opening moments proved more than a feisty Florida team could overcome.

As the game wore on and Georgia's offense struggled in the second half, Gurley remained a spark plug for the entire team. In a highly contested battle that saw tempers on both sides flare repeatedly, Gurley proved to be the emotional leader for Georgia.  

He refused to shy away from contact, even after whistles blew. Twice, he was involved in extracurricular skirmishes with members of the Florida defense. But Georgia rallied around him and matched his intensity.

Fittingly, it was a depleted and clearly exhausted Gurley who continued to make plays for Georgia on the Dawgs' final clock-eating drive to close out the game. As the Bulldogs ran off the final 8:17 of game clock, Gurley carried the ball seven times.

Twice he converted on 3rd-and-short situations, thanks to a second effort in traffic. Those two runs saw deep penetration by Florida's defensive line, but the Gators' efforts could not match the fight of Gurley. He extended the final drive where other Georgia running backs would have come up short.  

To be sure, this was a team victory. Georgia’s defense allowed only one Gator drive in excess of 50 yards and made plays to get off the field late. Michael Bennett was also welcomed back into the lineup on the offensive side of the ball, and former walk-on Rhett McGowan hauled in several big passes from Murray. Even the special teams unit avoided crippling errors.

But make no mistake about it, Gurley won this game for Georgia. Gurley was the only Bulldog to score a touchdown and led the team in rushing yards (an even 100) and receiving yards (87). In doing so, he led the Bulldogs right back into SEC East contention.