- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
ATHENS, Ga. -- The look on Mark Richt's face when he talked about getting running back Todd Gurley back for Saturday's game against Florida was priceless.
It was like a boulder of stress rolled off his shoulders. After all, the Bulldogs have been without arguably the country's best running back for three games after Gurley went down early in the second quarter against LSU with what turned out to a debilitating ankle injury.
Georgia has had its issues all over the field, especially because of injuries, but Gurley's absence coupled with the loss of Keith Marshall for the season has contributed significantly to Georgia's 4-3 record. Getting Gurley back will give this offense a major boost and will help open up a passing game down key receivers against the Gators.
"He's, in my opinion, the best running back in the country," Georgia receiver Rhett McGowan said of Gurley. "He's a game changer."
Gurley isn't the only potential game changer this weekend. The Gators will start freshman Kelvin Taylor start at running back against the Dawgs. The son of former Florida All-American running back Fred Taylor, Florida's new starter doesn't have Gurley's resume, but he arrived in Gainesville with a lot more hype.
The younger Taylor was the No. 1 running back coming out of high school in the 2013 class after rushing for 12,121 yards and scoring a Florida state-record 191 touchdowns during his varsity career. However, all of Taylor's hype hasn't translated to the field, yet, as he has 172 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
Richt isn't very familiar with Taylor, but he recruited his father to Florida State years ago. There was even a time in which he thought he had the elder Taylor and receiver Reidel Anthony locked up until they both took last-minute visits to Florida.
"I thought I had them both," Richt said. "They took one more visit just for fun to Florida -- that's what they told me -- and they never came back.
"I remember he kind of said, ‘Hey, save a spot, I’m coming.’"
Richt can laugh about it now, but you have to think he'd like to see his defense stop this Taylor from schooling him like his father did.
Florida coach Will Muschamp wouldn't compare Taylor to his father, but has been impressed with his "natural running instincts" and said he gets the ball north and south as a "one-cut runner."
He isn't a breakaway guy with his speed, but he's a solid downhill runner with the agility to make guys miss. What he has to do is get closer to becoming more of a complete back in Florida's offense.
"He's a guy that's got some special ability, but the thing that's really struck me as we've moved forward with the season is him doing a better job with protection and some of the things you've got to do at the running back position besides running the ball," Muschamp said.
With the offense regressing with each week, the Gators will need some sort of spark from Taylor to help the passing game. He showed promise with his team-high 74 yards and a 20-yard touchdown on 12 carries in the loss to Missouri two weeks ago.
And having Gurley back should help the Dawgs as well. With Gurley in the lineup during the first four games of the season, the Bulldogs averaged 554 offensive yards a game. Since then, the Dawgs have averaged 369.7 yards per game. Injuries haven't helped, but neither has not having Gurley and his 6.3 yards per carry.
"He’s a guy that usually if you block for zero yards, he gets about two or three," Richt said. "If you block for three or four, he gets about seven or eight. If you block it just right, anything can happen.
"He’s a complete back, and he’s a dynamic player really. Hopefully he’s 100 percent and we can get him some space to see what he can do.”
Both of these teams will need to run the ball to succeed on Saturday, and they're both hoping to have fresher, more efficient engines in their backfield down in Jacksonville.
16hSam Khan Jr. and Derek Tyson