Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah could make the Gator Bowl a ground-and-pound celebration on New Year’s Day.
Gurley, a 6-foot-1, 232-pound sophomore, has 903 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns despite missing three-plus games with an ankle injury. He needs 93 yards on the ground against the Cornhuskers on Wednesday to become the third player in school history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Herschel Walker (1980-83) and Knowshon Moreno (2007-08) also accomplished the feat.
Abdullah, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior, has 1,568 yards and eight touchdowns. Only three Cornhuskers — Mike Rozier, Ahman Green and Lawrence Phillips — have enjoyed better single seasons than Abdullah.
“There’s no doubt they’re both great backs,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “They’re different. They have different styles, obviously built differently. ... But great players come in a lot of different shapes and sizes and a lot of different skill sets.”
The 23rd-ranked Bulldogs (8-4) and Cornhuskers (8-4) likely will rely on both in the Gator Bowl, a rematch of last year’s Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
Georgia is playing its second consecutive game without four-year starter Aaron Murray, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Kentucky on Nov. 23. Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, meanwhile, was limited to four games this season because of a left foot injury.
Without Murray, Gurley ran 20 times for 122 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-34 double-overtime victory against Georgia Tech. He also caught four passes for 36 yards and a score.
“We have a lot of respect for Gurley,” said Pelini, whose defense allowed Gurley to run for 125 yards and a touchdown last year. “He’s a heck of a football player with his size and his strength. He can do a lot of different things in the running game and the passing game.”
So can Abdullah, who has 51 career receptions for 421 yards and four TDs.
“He’s a solid dude, a real tough, physical runner,” Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith said. “The guy can really play football, a hard-nosed guy, gets after it, has great vision, can cut back. We’ve got our hands full. He’s a problem ‘cause he’s such a talented back.”
Aside from the star running backs, here are five things to know about Georgia and Nebraska heading into the Gator Bowl.
KEY INJURIES: Not only did both teams lost QBs, the offenses were devastated by injuries. Georgia lost running back Keith Marshall as well as receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett. Nebraska played much of the year without All-Big Ten guard Spencer Long and receiver Jamal Turner. “When you face things like that — tough times as the season goes on — winning eight games isn’t easy,” Pelini said. “I don’t think people understand that or realize that.”
SUSPENSIONS: Georgia will be without safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and cornerback Sheldon Dawson, both suspended for violating team rules. It’s the second suspension for the Harvey-Clemons, who also sat out the season opener against Clemson for violating the athletic program’s marijuana-use policy.
MASON’S ENCORE: With Murray out, junior Hutson Mason will make his second career start. Mason completed 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception, against Georgia Tech. “That’s why you come to Georgia: to play these types of games,” Mason said.
GREGORY STANDS OUT: When Georgia watched Nebraska on video, defensive end Randy Gregory stood out — and not just because he’s 6-6 and 255 pounds. Gregory leads the Big Ten with 9½ sacks, stops that earned him the team’s defensive MVP award. “Gregory is about as close as you can get to an SEC defensive end,” Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said. “It will be a personal challenge for me.”
BOBO FINALE? Richt declined to say whether offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has spoken with Georgia Southern about its head coaching opening. “The only thing I’ll comment on that is I think it’s a compliment to Georgia, to Mike Bobo,” Richt said. “When people do excellent work, people notice it. ... So I’m not shocked that Mike’s getting some attention in that regard.” Under Bobo, Georgia is on pace to set school records for scoring and total offense for the second straight season.