ATHENS, Ga. -- If there is one attribute of Todd Gurley’s that most impresses his Georgia coaches and teammates, it would be his ability to break tackles and generate yards after contact.
That ability had Bulldogs defensive players raving from the first time they had to tackle the freshman tailback during preseason practice.
“A lot of times guys would just hit him and you think you’ve got him stopped and he just keeps driving his knees and there are people just falling off,” senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “You never feel like, ‘Oh no, he’s stopped.’ There’s always a chance that he’s going to fall four more yards. A guy that’s always leaning forward, falling forward, is a great running back.”
Asked Tuesday if that is the strongest part of his game, Gurley replied, “Most definitely. Just being able to do that, that’s going to make some running backs better than others -- being able to get that extra yardage after contact.”
And he has already made a name for himself by doing just that. Gurley leads the SEC with 406 rushing yards -- and according to ESPN Stats and Information, 146 of those yards came after first contact with a defender.
Never was his ability to shed tackles on better display than on a 29-yard touchdown run last Saturday against Vanderbilt. Gurley broke four tackles on the way to the end zone, capping the run by stiffarming Commodores safety Javon Marshall to the ground at the 13-yard line.
“That was the greatest run I’ve ever seen in my life,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. “I’ve watched the film like four or five times and watched that play over and over and over again. I think he broke like four or five tackles and was falling down and was still able to maintain his balance and stiffarm a guy to the ground. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
But it’s not just on the highlight-reel runs where Gurley’s tackle-breaking ability has come in handy. Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo values that ability when it makes a bad play better and keeps Georgia drives alive.
“Twice the other night I can think of on second-and-short, we didn’t block it right and he was able to get three yards after contact, which got us a first down, where he might have gotten stopped short and it’s third-and-short and we could get stopped on third down,” Bobo said. “That ability to get that on second-and-3 or -4 when we didn’t block somebody is huge. It’s moving chains and not putting you in those third-down situations and being able to stay up-tempo.”
Facing the giants: David Andrews’ assignment on Saturday against Tennessee is nothing new. Georgia’s center will be at a serious size disadvantage when he lines up across from the Volunteer’s massive nose guard, Daniel McCullers, who is listed at 6-foot-8 and 377 pounds.
Of course he’s already outweighed by the two teammates he predominantly blocks every day in practice, Georgia’s nose guard duo of John Jenkins (6-3, 358 pounds) and Kwame Geathers (6-6, 355). And by this point, he’s not sure whether he’s prefer to block a giant like McCullers or a smaller nose guard like Georgia’s Mike Thornton (6-1, 302), who presents a completely different challenge.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Andrews said. “I go against Big John and Kwame and then you’ve got people like Mike Thornton. Mike Thornton’s hard to get under and use your leverage against and he’s very explosive. So I don’t know. It’s different. I’m still trying to figure out which one I’d rather block. I guess I’d probably say a balanced guy -- someone about 6-4, 300. That’s what I’ve faced a lot recently, so I guess those are the best.”
Nonetheless, Andrews will be giving up nearly 100 pounds to McCullers on Saturday and he knows it won’t be easy to move the monstrous lineman.
“He’s definitely a big guy,” Andrews said. “I’ve got a buddy that plays at N.C. State and he said he’s about every bit of what they list him as, so it’s going to be a challenge, but I’m ready for it and I’m looking forward to the competition.”
Juggling Mitchell: Georgia coach Mark Richt announced Monday that Malcolm Mitchell would practice with the offense on Tuesday and the defense on Wednesday as he attempts to play both receiver and cornerback for the rest of the season.
Tuesday was the first time Mitchell had practiced exclusively with the offense since last season, and Bobo said the time away was evident.
“I thought it went well,” Bobo said. “He’s obviously a little rusty -- hadn’t worked at receiver hardly any, maybe 15 minutes, since we opened camp. But he’s a talented kid and we’re going to give his ability a chance to make some plays in the game. How much he plays offensively will be how much he can know the playbook and understand what we’re doing.”
Mitchell was Georgia’s second-leading receiver last season and will return a potent deep threat to the passing game, but the offense has fared well without him. Bobo does not want to force Mitchell back into the offensive scheme too quickly and risk disrupting the rhythm his receiving corps built in the first four games while Mitchell was playing almost exclusively on defense.
“He remembers a lot, but still we want to be in sync,” Bobo said. “We’re pretty much in sync in the passing game and I think he’s going to add to the passing game, but at the same time we’re not just going to throw him out there full time unless we’re going to be in sync.”
Injury update: Senior defensive end Abry Jones sat out of practice for the second consecutive day after spraining his left ankle last Saturday against Vanderbilt.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham did not rule Jones out for the Tennessee game, but said reserves like Ray Drew could also play a greater role if Jones remains hobbled.
“[Jones] knows the game plan and what we’re going to do,” Grantham said. “I think it was more important for him to get rest and get some treatment and be fresh because you’ve always got to balance how much preparation do you give them -- the workload -- to be fresh and ready to play. I think that we’ll give him a little bit of work tomorrow, a little bit more on Thursday and rest him up on Friday and I expect him to be fine.”