JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — If there was a play that came to define Todd Gurley’s season – if not the Georgia Bulldogs’ season – it was a quick toss in the final minute of the third quarter when Gurley only needed to get past Nebraska cornerback Corey Cooper for what could have been a game-changing touchdown.
Seemingly held together by hope and athletic tape, Gurley couldn’t make a decisive cut on the soggy EverBank Field turf and was stopped after seven yards.
Like the run in Wednesday’s TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Gurley and the rest of the Bulldog Nation will be bothered during the off-season by one nagging question: What if?
What if Gurley didn’t have a sore ankle – an injury which kept him on the Georgia bench throughout October?
What if quarterback Aaron Murray didn’t suffer a season-ending knee injury against Kentucky?
What if Georgia didn’t drop two fourth-down passes late in the game?
What if Georgia didn’t lose starting offensive linemen Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette to injuries during the game?
“You can’t get down; you’ve got to move on,” Gurley said following Nebraska’s 24-19 victory. “This one is going to be hard for me because I don’t have another game for like eight or six months from now.”
Gurley made an impression with Georgia by rushing for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns a year ago as a freshman. The bad ankle sent him into Wednesday’s game with only 903 yards, and his 86 yards on 21 carries left him 11 yards short of the 1,000-yard barrier.
“The yards aren’t going to define me,” he said.
Worst yet, the Bulldogs finished far below expectations at 8-5.
Gurley said Georgia won’t return to classes until next Monday. He said the team probably will take another week off before starting its off-season training. Although time away from football would be good medicine for his ankle, and all the other injuries that derailed Georgia’s season, he said he welcomes the challenge of working through the aches and pains.
“I’m ready to get back,” he said. “I might have a week off. Then I’ll get right back at it. I want to train while I’m still injured because that’s how you’ve got to play. You might as well train while you’re injured.”
The Bulldogs clearly were hobbled by injuries, the rain and their own lack of execution. Quarterback Hutson Mason threw two well-thrown balls on fourth-down plays on Georgia’s last two drives, only to have them dropped.
“It was kind of bad with the rain and everything,” Gurley said. “You just had to be patient. You couldn’t go full speed like you wanted to.
“To go all the way down there like that and on fourth down you just give it to them, that’s a bad feeling right there.”
Of course it also could have changed if a healthy Gurley with good footing was able to escape Cooper in the open field.
“It basically was a reaction thing,” Gurley said. “I didn’t really do what I wanted to do.”