Georgia Bulldogs: Robert Griffin III

Gurley is off and running for Georgia

September, 10, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. -- As he does each Sunday, Mark Richt sat down and rewatched his Georgia team's game from the previous day -- this time a 41-30 win against then-No. 6 South Carolina.

Asked Sunday evening what he took away from that second viewing, Richt's first comments concerned his starting tailback, Todd Gurley.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley is seventh in the nation with 286 rushing yards and tied for fourth with four TDs.
“Just watching Gurley run was fun,” Richt said. “He's just such a powerful back. He's got such great balance, speed.”

Fans -- and Heisman Trophy voters -- have had the opportunity to make similar observations over the last two weeks as Richt's Bulldogs played two top-10 opponents. And all Gurley has done is dominate in both games, despite missing a portion of the opener at Clemson with a quad injury and despite facing one of the nation's better run defenses from last season in South Carolina.

Gurley on Monday received two rounds of treatment on the thigh injury that kept him from practicing much last week, but it didn't prevent him from dominating on the ground Saturday and fulfilling one of his few stated offseason goals of contributing more in the passing game. He hauled in his first career touchdown catch in the third quarter of the Bulldogs' win.

“I really didn't sit down this offseason and say, 'I'm trying to do this, I'm trying to do that,' ” Gurley said. “One of my main things was just to get more plays in the passing game and just work on playing without the ball. That was about all.”

After his 30-carry, 132-yard effort, which included one rushing and one receiving touchdown, Gurley is seventh nationally with 286 rushing yards and tied for fourth with four touchdowns.

“He probably is at the top of the group of running backs who are going for the Heisman right now,” said Chris Huston, whose Heisman Pundit website tracks the race closely throughout the season. “I'd say he has pushed himself to the top of that group.”

Obviously it's early, but Gurley has already continued his upward trajectory from a breakout freshman season where he rushed for 1,385 yards and scored 18 touchdowns.

There was his 75-yard touchdown run against Clemson where he exploded through a hole and outran everyone to the end zone. And then there were runs Saturday like the one where he somehow stayed on his feet when South Carolina defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles ripped off his helmet by the facemask, and very well might have scored a helmetless touchdown if not for the rule that requires such a play to be blown dead. Or when he burst down the sideline during a second-quarter touchdown drive and easily tossed Gamecocks cornerback Jimmy Legree aside with a vicious stiff-arm.

“Watching film on him, he's by far in my opinion -- anyone who watched him would probably agree with me -- the best player in the country. I don't think there's anyone like Todd,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said Monday.

He might not enjoy the spotlight, but Gurley possesses the total package that a Heisman-contending running back needs in order to generate national attention. Now he needs his teammates to help him remain in the conversation.

Spread-offense quarterbacks have the odds in their favor in this day and age, although that position held the advantage even before dual-threat passers like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel claimed each of the last three Heismans. Quarterbacks have won 11 of the last 13 years, so Gurley not only needs to separate himself from other running backs with impressive yardage totals and highlight-reel runs, he needs Georgia to remain in the BCS conversation in order to remain a viable alternative to quarterbacks like Manziel, Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Ohio State's Braxton Miller.

“It's hard for a running back to win, but if he does win, he has to have as little competition from other running backs in the race as possible,” Huston said. “Gurley's first task is to sort of establish himself as the running back alternative to whatever quarterbacks there are.”

Then again, he must also separate himself from his own teammate to become a true Heisman frontrunner.

Murray reignited his Heisman hopes with a nearly flawless 309-yard, four-touchdown performance against South Carolina. Interestingly enough, however, Huston said the perception that two contending teammates might siphon votes away from one another isn't necessarily accurate.

As an example, he used the 2004 race where USC quarterback Matt Leinart won and running back teammate Reggie Bush finished fifth. Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson and Jason White finished second and third that year. In other words, members of the two teams that played for the BCS championship took up four of the top five spots in the voting -- and their respective abilities likely helped their teammates from a performance and publicity standpoint.

“You could argue that Jason White's support cost Peterson the Heisman, but you could also say that Bush's support cost Leinart more votes in that situation,” Huston said. “Would Peterson have gotten more votes if White wasn't as good? So it's kind of a symbiotic relationship between the two. If Aaron Murray wasn't as good, Gurley probably wouldn't be as successful because teams would be able to key on him more.”

Bobo, Murray focus on finer points

August, 18, 2013
Aaron Murray, Mike BoboDale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsMike Bobo (right) calls quarterback Aaron Murray an extension of the coaching staff on the field.

ATHENS, Ga. -- When Mike Bobo says he wants to see a more mobile Aaron Murray this season, Georgia’s offensive coordinator doesn’t envision his quarterback running circles around defenses like Robert Griffin III or Michael Vick.

Sure, maybe Murray will run a bit more than he has the past two seasons, but Bobo actually means that he wants the senior to have a better sense of where defenders are around him in the pocket -- and to have the wherewithal to move into positions that maintain clear throwing lanes.

“We were trying to say, 'Hey, there’s an example of extending the play.' It’s never going to be perfect that you drop back, you hitch twice, you go to your second progression, boom, completion. That doesn’t happen, really,” Bobo said. “It’s move to the side, slide to the right, step up, run two yards, bang, throw the ball.”

The convenient aspect of coaching a fourth-year starter is that Bobo can focus on such finer points. Technique and knowledge of the Bulldogs’ offensive scheme are certainly not problems for a player with Murray's maniacal work ethic.

“Since halfway of last year, there’s really not anything that I didn’t feel comfortable giving him,” Bobo said. “Really, he understands the whole playbook. He’s really an extension of our offensive staff.”

That partnership has produced back-to-back SEC East titles and never-before-seen offensive production at Georgia. The Bulldogs set a program scoring record last fall and Murray set single-season UGA records for passing yards (3,893) and touchdown passes (36).

He became the first quarterback in SEC history to pass for 3,000 yards in three seasons, and could become just the fourth in FBS history to surpass the 3,000-yard mark in each of four seasons.

That’s not why he turned down the NFL to spend another season at Georgia, however. Murray insists he essentially made that decision as the final seconds ticked away in the Bulldogs’ loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game, a few yards shy of a chance to play for the BCS title.

“The No. 1 reason why I came back this year is to win a championship -- to win an SEC championship game, to win a national championship,” Murray said. “So I think that’s pretty much it. If I leave here with a championship, with some rings, that’s all I care about.”

To reach that goal, Murray worked on another of the areas Bobo asked him to improve: leadership.

Bobo split the team into approximately 10 groups this summer and asked at least one team leader to take ownership of each group. The groups won points in such categories as attendance at class and in summer workouts, and multiple veterans said summer participation was the best it had been in their UGA careers.

“I think we really lucked out,” senior tight end Arthur Lynch said. “I came in with him and I didn’t really start realizing until he started molding into a leader. He always wanted to be that and he kind of molded into it and grew into that leadership role.

“Really now I think he’s got a lot of respect for his performance on the field, but now it’s even that much more respect off [it]. I think that’s kind of one thing he’s always wanted, not so much for himself, but so he could help lead a better group of guys to become a better team.”

If Murray only duplicates his numbers from last season, he will break the SEC’s career records for pass attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdown passes. So it might seem strange that he was voted as only the third-team quarterback on the media’s preseason All-SEC team.

However, with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and AJ McCarron of back-to-back BCS champion Alabama still around, Murray must continue his upward trajectory in big games to earn more love. Correcting that one hole in his resume -- and he has that opportunity with games against Clemson, South Carolina and LSU before the end of September -- is nearly all he has left to accomplish.

“In my opinion, he doesn’t have to prove anything,” right guard Chris Burnette said. “But I know the outside opinion is for him to just continue to do well and even better in the big games. Honestly, he’s a great leader of our team. Anytime we do well in a big game, he has a large part of it.

“Especially being a quarterback, I think a lot of the blame can get lumped on him when it’s not really his fault. I feel like if we come out and achieve our goals this year, I don’t think anybody will really be able to say too much about him.”


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