Georgia running back Todd Gurley may or may not be fully recovered from an injured ankle when the Bulldogs take the field against No. 7 Auburn this weekend. What we do know is he’s playing at a very high level. Gurley has rushed for 275 yards and two touchdowns in two games since his return. He needed only 11 carries to rack up 116 yards and a touchdown in Georgia’s 38-0 victory over Auburn last season.
But which Todd Gurley will show up against Auburn on Saturday? The one who steamrolled Florida two weeks ago (187 YDs, two TDs) or the one who was kept at bay by Appalachian State (87 YDs) a week later?
To be sure, the Tigers would be wise to prepare as if the Bulldogs’ top running back will be 100 percent when the teams meet in a hugely important showdown Saturday inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. Georgia (6-3, 4-2) is hanging on to SEC East title hopes by a thread and Auburn (9-1, 5-1) can reach the conference title game if it wins out. Not to mention, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry is knotted at 54-54-8, so the winner will take command of the all-time series.
And No. 3 in white, the guy with the dreadlocks flopping around when he totes the rock, will have a lot to say about which team keeps its dream alive. The sophomore, who was an early-season Heisman candidate, is averaging 104.2 yards per game to go along with six touchdowns. More importantly, he is one of the league’s toughest backs, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
And Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson knows it. “He probably may be the most physical back in the league,” Johnson told AL.com. “There’s so many good ones. We’ve played some really good ones, and there’s still some left down the road, but I don’t know if there’s any more physical back than him.”
Auburn has struggled to defend power running attacks this season. Last week, the Tigers gave up 226 rushing yards to Tennessee, the second-most this season behind the 228 they surrendered to LSU. In that 35-21 loss in Baton Rouge, Jeremy Hill rolled over Auburn for a career-high 184 yards and three touchdowns.
Overall, Auburn has allowed 200 yards or more on the ground in four games this season. If Gurley finds similar success on the ground, Georgia’s odds of pulling off the upset increase dramatically. Success on the ground will open things up for Aaron Murray, who broke the SEC career passing touchdown record last week. Murray has torched the Tigers’ secondary over the last two seasons, completing 32 of 42 passes for 432 yards and seven TDs with zero interceptions.
Auburn’s defense has operated with a ‘bend but don’t break’ mentality this season, and it’s worked out quite well. Though the Tigers give up some yards – 394.4 per game, 10th in SEC – they don’t let teams into the end zone. Auburn’s defense is fourth in the league in scoring (20.4 points per game) largely because it is second only to Alabama in red zone defense.
Simply put, the Tigers force teams to kick field goals when they get into scoring range. When Georgia gets inside the Auburn 20, that’s when Gurley’s physical running style will come into play. The team that wins the battle on those downs will likely win the game and keep their SEC title hopes alive.