ATHENS, Ga. — Todd Gurley played like a starter when he ran for three touchdowns in his debut.
The freshman tailback could make his first start in No. 6 Georgia’s Southeastern Conference opener at Missouri on Saturday.
Gurley ran for 100 yards on only eight carries in Georgia’s 45-23 opening win over Buffalo. He ran through arm tackles for a 10-yard touchdown run, showed his speed while scoring on a 100-yard kickoff return, and then threw a stiff-arm to clear a path for a 55-yard touchdown run.
Starter Ken Malcome left the game with a left hand injury, possibly clearing the way for Gurley to move up.
Another freshman, Keith Marshall, had 10 carries for 46 yards. Malcome, a sophomore, had six carries for 32 yards.
Gurley is Georgia’s first freshman to run for 100 yards in his first game since Danny Ware had 135 yards against Georgia Southern in 2004.
“That’s what me and Keith came here for, to show everybody what we’ve got,” Gurley said.
Coach Mark Richt had no injury updates on Sunday.
Richt wasn’t ready to name his starting tailback, but it’s clear Gurley has earned a prominent role.
“He’ll definitely get the ball, that’s for sure,” Richt said.
Richt has said Gurley and Marshall will have to show they can protect quarterback Aaron Murray on passing plays. Murray had three touchdown passes against Buffalo.
After one game, Richt still wants to see more of Gurley (6-foot-1, 218 pounds) as a blocker. He has already seen enough to be impressed with Gurley’s runs.
“There weren’t a whole lot of opportunities for him to pass protect, but obviously he impressed me as a runner, and he’s been impressing me and the rest of our staff and the team with how he’s been doing,” Richt said Sunday.
“He pretty much played in this game the way he played in the scrimmages. He’s got a knack for breaking tackles. He’s got more speed than you think for a big man, and he’s just a big, fluid athlete. You saw that on the kickoff return.”
Richt said Saturday Gurley’s average of 12.5 yards per carry matched his average in preseason scrimmages.
“Yeah, everybody got a chance to see what we had been seeing in some of these scrimmages, a guy that obviously has some tackle-breaking ability and has some speed for a big man,” Richt said. “Of course that kickoff return was a thing of beauty.
“That blocked it well enough to give him enough space to do what he did, but he certainly took advantage of it. You need a guy with some bravery and a guy who can break some arm tackles and Todd did that.”
“Hopefully he’ll keep it up,” Richt said. “It’s early yet, but he’s really been impressive so far.”
Gurley said he knows he has to block to earn more snaps.
“I didn’t come into the game thinking about yards or anything,” he said. “I just came in to play my best and just really try to play my best without the ball. ... I was just trying to get the plays right.”
SEC newcomer Missouri will be playing its first conference game.
“To play Missouri at Missouri in the opening game in league play is not best draw, but it is what it is,” Richt said. “We’ve got to play it and we’re going to get after it, and I know they will, too.”
Freshman right tackle John Theus sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter and was on crutches at the end of the game.
“I’ve seen more offensive linemen go with a bum ankle than a skill player, so that might help us,” Richt said.