Todd Gurley hasn’t seen the field in nearly four games.
But the sophomore tailback still leads Georgia in rushing yards (450), all-purpose yards (492) and is tied with quarterback Aaron Murray in touchdowns scored with five.
A week ago, tight end Arthur Lynch said Gurley is one of three players he has played alongside that impacts every aspect of the game, the other two being linebacker Jarvis Jones and receiver A.J. Green.
“But Todd is like all three — Keith [Marshall], Brendan [Douglas] and J.J. [Green] — built into one,” Lynch said last week. “That’s just not normal. He brings so much emotion and energy to the offense.”
Georgia (4-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) is hoping that’s the case as it heads to Jacksonville, Fla., to take on Florida in what will be Gurley’s first game since Sept. 28.
Coach Mark Richt said on Tuesday he’s “convinced” Gurley will play Saturday after missing three games with a left ankle sprain he suffered in the second quarter against LSU.
“He’s a guy that usually if you block for zero yards, he gets about two or three,” Richt said. “If you block for three or four, he gets about seven or eight. If you block it just right, anything can happen.”
Gurley has traveled with the team to both away games — at Tennessee and Vanderbilt — since his injury to be a fixture on the depleted and sometimes demoralized Georgia sideline. But Murray said the ripple effect of Gurley’s on-field performance has a wide radius when Gurley stiff-arms or runs over a defender.
“It pumps the offense up, it pumps the defense up and it gets everyone amped up and into the game,” Murray said.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said even though freshmen tailbacks Green and Douglas have stepped in to combine for 531 rush yards and two touchdowns in place of Gurley and the out-for-the-season Marshall, Gurley’s presence offers immediate balance for the Georgia offense, which has been averaging 475 yards an outing.
“Sometimes you don’t have to block a grade — he’s able to get yards,” Bobo said. “He brings a physicality to our offense with the way he runs the ball, so I’m excited to get him back.”
Lynch said as crucial as Gurley’s return is, Georgia’s three-back rotation of Gurley, Green and Douglas will help the Bulldogs control the clock if they can successfully run the ball against Florida’s defense, which has allowed just 100 yards rushing a game by opponents.
“I think despite the two guys we had, I think they were still a little nicked up, bumps and bruises, but we all have,” Lynch said. “Todd’s been rested for over a month now it seems and the two other guys have had a week off, so I think we have a pretty good understanding of the ground attack.”
Bobo said the tailback rotation will come into play if Gurley’s ankle becomes sore and he needs rest in his first game back. The same goes for receiver Michael Bennett, who will be returning from a knee injury.
“But hopefully the adrenaline of the game will help them going and then we got to rotate and be smart,” Bobo said.
Through Georgia’s first four games with Gurley as the starter, the Bulldogs recorded 33 plays of 20 or more yards. In their last three outings with Gurley and several other starters sidelined, the Bulldogs have recorded nine plays of 20 or more yards. The Bulldogs’ average per play has also declined, hitting a season low of 3.5 against Vanderbilt. The previous season low was 6 against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and the season high is 8.7 against North Texas.
“He just adds so much to the offense in the run game,” Murray said. “It allows us to do a little bit more in the play-action and he just brings an excitement to the team.”
Florida’s defense has allowed 172.4 yards passing a game and have collected nine interceptions, 32 pass breakups, five forced fumbles and 11 sacks through seven games. receiver Rhett McGowan said defenses have to account for Gurley in the backfield, which opens up the passing game.
“Todd, he’s a game-changer,” McGowan said. “Him and Murray are the most valuable players on this offense and it’s huge to have him back. His experience and his confidence and his ability. He’s, in my opinion, is the best running back in the country and he’s a game changer.”