ATHENS – His teammates and coaches marvel that Todd Gurley doesn’t seem like a freshman, and the Georgia tailback is piling up statistics that quantify their point.
Two-thirds of the way through the regular season, Gurley is on pace to become just the second true freshman in Georgia football history to rush for 1,000 yards. His most impressive game yet — 118 yards on 27 fumble-free carries against a Florida defense that had not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season — lifted Gurley’s rushing total to 740 yards, which projects to 1,110 by the end of the regular season.
That would rank behind only you-know-who among first-year Bulldogs.
Herschel Walker ran for 1,616 yards in Georgia’s national-championship season of 1980, but the next most rushing yards by a UGA first-year freshman is Rodney Hampton’s 890 in 1987. One caveat: Knowshon Moreno ran for 1,334 yards in his debut season in 2007, but Moreno was a redshirt freshman at the time, having already spent a full year in the Georgia program.
Gurley arrived this past summer, made a strong impression in preseason camp and proceeded to run for 100-plus yards in five of his first eight games.
Ask around the team about him, and the same message echoes.
Senior wide receiver Tavarres King: “He’s just a guy who is way ahead of his years, in my eyes. I don’t feel like he’s a freshman. It’s crazy, because he doesn’t act like a freshman and he doesn’t play like one.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo: “He does not seem like a freshman running back. He doesn’t have a freshman body. He’s physically like a grown man already. And the maturity he has, the way he approaches practice and the mental approach he has in a game to be able to do what we do, (shows) how special he is.”
Quarterback Aaron Murray: “Usually freshmen might be a little shy, but he’s very vocal, making sure guys are staying pumped up, getting excited. He definitely doesn’t act like one at all.”
Gurley’s reaction to all of that: “I guess they just have confidence in me. I’m thankful for that.”
The hoopla surrounding Gurley had started to subside a bit at this time a week ago. After 130-yard rushing games against Vanderbilt and Tennessee, he had been held to 39 by South Carolina and 47 by Kentucky, raising some questions about how he’d fare against a Florida defense that ranked No. 10 nationally against the run.
The 6-foot-1, 218-pound Gurley fared very well, reigniting the hoopla by running powerfully and physically in a game in which space was hard to find.
“I thought (Gurley’s performance) was probably underrated as far as what people talked about at the end of the game,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “There are so many things to talk about in that game, but … it was a tremendous performance. To have that many carries against that physical of a defense and to average 4.4 (yards) without really having a long run, that was a heck of a game. And his ball security was tremendous.”
One other thing impressed Richt: Gurley was “stung” by a hard hit early in the game but “just didn’t say much about it. Just kept going.”
Running backs coach Bryan McClendon said the game “really showed a lot” about Gurley, “just him being up to it and being able to do it.” McClendon said Gurley and fellow freshman tailback Keith Marshall “know the importance of preparing and doing things the right way in practice if they want to get the outcome in the game.”
The Florida game left Gurley third in the SEC in rushing, 53 yards off the league lead, and Georgia positioned to reach the SEC Championship game if it wins at home against Ole Miss on Saturday and at Auburn on Nov. 10.
“That’s why I came here,” said Gurley, from Tarboro, N.C. “I knew it was a great team that went to the SEC Championship last year and dreamed big. Why not me, being a freshman, dream big with them?”
Gurley had one moment of over-exuberance against the Gators. After giving Georgia an early lead on a strong 10-yard touchdown run, he did a “Gator chomp” in the end zone and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“Coach Bobo asked me (after the game), ‘What the heck was that?’” Gurley said. “I told him, and he was, like, ‘That’s stupid.’
“It was a celebration I got from (teammate) Blake Tibbs. He did it last year in a high school game (against an opponent that had a Florida-bound player). I liked it, so I got in the end zone and thought of it.”
Call it his freshman moment.
And now a veteran moment: As the chatter continued early this week about the win over the Gators, Gurley declared, “Time to move on now.”
– Tim Tucker
The top 10 rushing seasons by UGA first-year freshmen (redshirt freshmen not included):
Player Year Yards
Herschel Walker 1980 1,616*
Rodney Hampton 1987 890
Thomas Brown 2004 875
Isaiah Crowell 2011 850
Todd Gurley 2012 740**
Keith Henderson 1985 731
Washaun Ealey 2009 717
Garrison Hearst 1990 717
Danny Ware 2004 692
Tim Worley 1985 627
* – Walker’s total set the NCAA freshman record at the time; the record now is held by Adrian Peterson, who had 1,925 rushing yards as an Oklahoma freshman in 2004.
** – with four regular-season games remaining