Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley will prove to be a major thorn in the side of the Auburn Tigers when the two teams collide at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS).
Sure, the sophomore has only played in two games over the last month and a half. However, for a running back of Gurley’s caliber—101 CAR, 625 YDs, 6 TDs in six games—that could actually prove to be more of a strength than anything else.
It could also serve as just the kind of obstacle that could derail Auburn’s late-season surge to win the SEC title.
But what about Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray?
The senior entered the season as a top Heisman Trophy candidate. And although his season hasn’t been as smooth as he’d like, Murray has still thrown for 2,477 yards, 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
In fact, going off a quick glance of the team rankings, you’d think that the Tigers would be hiding behind their stripes when it came to facing Murray. The team ranks No. 80 against the pass (237.6 YPG) as compared to No. 59 against the run (156.8 YPG).
But in a sport that favors the “What have you done for me lately?” attitude, Auburn has actually proven to be pretty stout against opposing quarterbacks in recent weeks.
On the other hand, the same can’t be said about the team’s run defense.
The Tigers have seemingly buckled down through the air. They’ve held three straight opponents under 200 yards of passing.
Furthermore, other than the four passing touchdowns Auburn gave up to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel on Oct. 19, the team has conceded just five scores through the air. Not to mention, the Tigers actually rank No. 28 in pass efficiency defense, limiting opposing quarterbacks to a rating of 117.0.
Did we mention that Murray also seems to be in bit of a slump?
Over the Bulldogs’ first four games, he averaged 334.5 passing yards per game, threw 11 touchdowns and three interceptions on 68.9 percent passing while leading the team to a 3-1 record. Since then, Murray has averaged just 227.8 passing yards per game, threw nine touchdowns and four interceptions on only 59.7 percent passing in the last five contests—Georgia was 3-2 during that span.
Yes, his receiving corps has been picked apart by several key injuries. But Murray deserves some of the blame too, as he doesn’t look like the same quarterback that had the Bulldogs slated as preseason BCS title contenders.
Meanwhile, the holes in Auburn’s run defense seem to be getting wider by the minute.
The team has given up a rushing touchdown in four consecutive games now. A further look into the numbers shows that the Tigers are also giving up a generous 4.23 yards per carry.
That can only mean trouble with last year’s SEC Freshman of the Year coming into town.
Though he was recently injured, don’t dismiss the impact Gurley’s presence has on the Georgia offense. After missing more than a month of playing time, he came back and immediately made a difference against a very stout Florida run defense, racking up 100 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
Who is a bigger threat to Auburn?
What makes Gurley even more dangerous is his ability to play a major role in the receiving game.
On the season, he has caught 11 passes for 141 yards and two scores. Gurley showcased these talents against the Gators, taking a dump off from Murray and taking it 73 yards to the end zone.
There’s no question who is the bigger threat to Auburn on Saturday.
Shut down Murray, and the Tigers’ chance of victory improves. Shut down Gurley, and a victory is all but assured.
It’s that simple.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.