Nebraska football fans getting ready for the Gator Bowl on New Year’s morning will surely see that the marquee matchup will be the running backs for the two teams.
Both Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Georgia’s Todd Gurley will be the centerpieces of their respective offenses as the two teams rematch last year’s Capital One Bowl.
So who is better? Which team, Nebraska or Georgia, gets the Jimmy the Greek-style checkbox at running back?
All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
Tale of the Tape
Abdullah: Junior, 5'9", 180 pounds
Gurley: Sophomore, 6'1", 232 pounds
2013 Season Stats
Here is a side-by-side comparison of the stats for both Abdullah and Gurley this season.
Here is what Abdullah (a junior) and Gurley (a sophomore) have compiled statistically over their careers.
Coming into the 2013 season, Abdullah was seen as an important complement to quarterback Taylor Martinez, who was expected to be the focal point of Nebraska’s offensive attack. But an injury to Martinez early in the season threw the quarterback position into disarray. It was Abdullah who became Nebraska’s rock, the foundation on which the rest of the offense was based.
Against Northwestern, as Nebraska was attempting to manufacture a miracle comeback, it was Abdullah who made what was arguably the play of the season.
On 4th-and-15, quarterback Ron Kellogg dumped a desperation pass to Abdullah in the flat, leaving him about 10 yards (and three Northwestern defenders) away from a first down that would keep Nebraska’s hopes alive.
Somehow, Abdullah managed to bob, swerve and power his way for 16 yards and a first down. Yes, the RK III-to-Jordan Westerkamp Hail Mary was the memorable play. But it was Abdullah’s first down that made it possible, and it was those kinds of plays that made Abdullah Nebraska’s MVP for 2013.
Gurley, on the other hand, missed a good portion of the 2013 season to injury. His absence was obvious, particularly with Georgia’s increased focus on using its running backs in the passing game. When you consider that Gurley ended the 2013 season with five more touchdowns than Abdullah while playing three fewer games, you get a sense of the kind of production Gurley generates when on the field.
In the five games Gurley played after returning from injury, he scored 10 (!) touchdowns and averaged 151 yards of total offense per game. In the three games Gurley missed (at Tennessee, Missouri and at Vanderbilt), Georgia had three of its four lowest total offensive outputs in 2013. Surely that’s not a coincidence.
Let’s stipulate at the start that both Gurley and Abdullah are first-rate tailbacks worthy of building an attack around. Having to pick between Gurley and Abdullah would be the textbook definition of a “good problem to have.”
Saying all that, I would have to give the nod to Gurley between the two backs. Gurley has three inches and 52 pounds on Abdullah, making him a more punishing runner. Gurley has also demonstrated more explosiveness and versatility, becoming more of a weapon as a receiver as well as a running back.
It’s not unfair to point out that Gurley is surrounded by better talent around him on offense. Georgia had Aaron Murray, a senior quarterback and likely NFL draft pick (according to Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com), who was bluntly described by Bleacher Report’s Andrew Hall as “the best to ever play the position in the University of Georgia's storied past.”
Nebraska, on the other hand, shuffled between an injured Taylor Martinez, a redshirt freshman in Tommy Armstrong thrust into the role without an offseason of preparation, and a third-string senior in Ron Kellogg who (to put it charitably) lacks the athletic skills needed to run an 11-on-11 offense.
So more weight should be given to Abdullah’s contributions this year simply because of how hard Nebraska had to lean on him for offensive production and stability.
But even with that caveat, if picking between the two, I would choose Gurley given his size, his versatility and his ability to score. Last year’s Capital One Bowl matchup wasn’t entirely fair as a comparison, as Abdullah was backing up Rex Burkhead.
This year should be more of a head-to-head matchup of the two backs, and it is fair to say that the one who has the better game will give his team a far better chance to win the contest.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge