Georgia's second-most important player in 2014

semerson@macon.comJuly 3, 2014 

UGA_v_App_St

6. No. 25 Georgia (6-3, 4-2); Last week, 7

Georgia did what it was supposed to do last Saturday, rolling over Appalachian State 45-6. Aaron Murray became the SEC's all-time leader in passing touchdowns, moving ahead of former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel. Murray and Todd Gurley help the offense rest easy, but the defense is going to have its hands full trying to slow down Auburn's rushing attack this Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH — gblankenship@macon.com

There's a very good debate to be had over whether Georgia's most important player this season is the starting quarterback or the starting tailback. But in compiling this list I found it rather obvious that it's one of the two. So by revealing No. 2, you surely know who No. 1 is as well.

But we hope you come back this weekend to see the explanation. (And happy birthday, America, by the way.)

Before we go on, a reminder that this is not a ranking of the team's best players. It is a look at the players who are most vital to the team's success. That takes into account the team's strengths and weaknesses, the depth at certain positions, and the importance of each position.

No. 12 was freshman athlete Isaiah McKenzie.

No. 11 was senior safety Corey Moore.

No. 10 was junior kicker Marshall Morgan.

No. 9 was junior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins.

No. 8 was the inside linebacker combo of Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson.

No. 7 was sophomore outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.

No. 6 was senior center David Andrews.

No. 5 was tackle John Theus.

No. 4 was receiver Malcolm Mitchell.

No. 3 was Damian Swann.

And now ...

2. TODD GURLEY
Junior
Tailback
WHY HE’S VITAL:
You watched last season, right?

OK, AN EXPLANATION ANYWAY:For all the talent around him on Georgia’s offense, including his own position, no one disputes that the offense just runs different when Gurley is out there. He’s at another level. In his college career, Gurley is averaging 6.6 yards every time he touches the ball on offense. (And that doesn’t include the 100-yard kick return touchdown in his debut game.) Gurley also allows the offense to be multi-dimensional without taking him out: He can be the bell cow on a grind-it-out run-heavy drive. He can be the dump-off option on a two-minute drive. Last year Georgia’s offense accounted for 39.3 points in which Gurley played, and 26.7 in games he didn’t. Georgia lost two of those three games he missed, and the win at Tennessee needed overtime, and you could argue that if Gurley hadn’t missed big chunks of the Clemson game that result would have been different. But the subject of Gurley’s health took a happy turn for Georgia this spring, when he was basically a full-go for every practice and scrimmage and survived unscathed. Instead of treating the star tailback with kid gloves, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo wanted Gurley tested, and he did. Now he has to hope it carries through the rest of his time at Georgia – which is almost certainly just this season.

QUOTABLE: "I've probably played with two other players that are like him, in this sense, Jarvis Jones and A.J. Green, to where he literally impacts everyone else on the field. Because I think the defense has to gameplan for him specifically." – Former teammate Arthur Lynch.

BEST CASE: Gurley stays reasonably healthy, and carries Georgia into the SEC championship and perhaps the new football playoff. The star tailback gets an invite to New York for the Heisman ceremony, and gets plenty of votes. Even a mediocre season will see Gurley finish second on Georgia’s all-time list for rushing yards: He’s at 2,374 right now, and second-place Garrison Hearst had 3,232. (A guy named Herschel had 5,259.) Gurley ends his career with everyone agreeing that this was at least the second-best tailback in Georgia history, rather than wondering what could have been if he had been healthy all the way.

WORST CASE: The injury bug continues, and Gurley has to miss extended time. Georgia should be more prepared this year with Keith Marshall back, Brendan Douglas has a year under his belt and highly-touted freshmen Nick Chubb and Sony Michel joining the program. Still, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, Gurley is special, and a game-changer.

FINAL WORD: This spring when Jeremy Pruitt was asked what position he felt good about he answered: “I’d say tailback.” The wisecrack summed up where this team is as it prepares for the season: Unsure about its defense, but knowing it may have one of the best offensive weapons in college football, and as Mark Richt said, “we’re gonna ride that big hoss.” But only as long as he’s available.

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