THE TEN AT 10
1. Mark Richt didn’t pussyfoot around the issue when the question of whether or not Todd Gurley should reclaim his starting position at tailback come Saturday.
“First offensive play, you’ll see Gurley; I can promise you that,” Richt said on his radio call-in show Monday night. “Todd Gurley is the starting tailback.”
Richt’s statement corroborated UGA’s initial depth chart released earlier in the day on Monday. Gurley was listed No. 1 ahead of freshmen Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
Gurley was considered a Heisman Trophy frontrunner when he was benched on Oct. 9 for breaking NCAA rules. Gurley missed the last four games under suspension for accepting improper benefits, but has been practicing ever since.
Gurley was leading the SEC in rushing at 154.6 yards per game and had scored eight touchdowns in five games at the time he was shut down.
“I think he’ll do just fine,” Richt said. “I don’t think he’s forgotten any of the plays. He has not forgotten how to play the game. I would hope his legs are fresh, his body is fresh.”
2. The question of who should start Saturday against Auburn came up in the immediate aftermath of this past Saturday’s 63-31 win over Kentucky. Chubb got his fourth consecutive start in Gurley’s absence in that game and had yet another stellar showing with 170 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown.
While Gurley was grounded, Chubb averaged 168 yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game as the Bulldogs’ starter. He now is now Georgia’s overall rushing leader with 895 yards to Gurley’s 773.
Against the Wildcats, the Bulldogs scored touchdowns on all seven offensive possessions in which the clock did not expire on them. They had 305 yards rushing and 559 total yards.
“We did that without Todd, so I’d think there’s a lot more we can do,” Chubb said after last Saturday’s game.
3. What has Richt particularly excited about Gurley’s return is the camaraderie being displayed by the running backs. Chubb and Michel have both expressed excitement about Gurley’s returning and no reservations about moving down in the rotation. When the season began, Gurley was the No. 1 tailback, followed by Keith Marshall, Michel and Chubb, respectively.
“He’s excited about Todd coming back,” Richt said of Chubb. “He can’t wait for Todd to come back. He loves Todd. He looks up to him and knows what a great player he is. … Chubb has been very thankful of his opportunity to be a starter for us and carry the load, and we’re thankful for Nick. But he is as excited as anybody that Todd will be back and Todd will be the starting tailback for us on Saturday.”
4. Here’s a scary thought for Auburn and the rest of Georgia’s opponents: Chubb feels like he’s just now starting to “get it.”
“Things are actually slowing down for me now,” Chubb said in the Kentucky post-game locker room. “I’m starting to get better with the signals and I’m starting to relax and play. I’m still working.”
Chubb also said he felt a difference physically having Michel back in the rotation this past Saturday. Michel came off the bench to get 16 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown.
“Sony’s back and he took a lot off my shoulders; he played very well,” said Chubb, who averaged 13.1 yard per carry. “It felt great. I stayed fresh. When you’re fresh, you can see everything a lot better, you can hit holes a lot quicker. I was never fatigued the whole game. Things opened up for me. Things slowed down. I wasn’t tired or having to pace myself or anything.”
5. Michel, by the way, said he knew “the whole time” he was going to play this past Saturday. Richt and the coaching staff indicated it was going to be a game-day decision based on how Michel’s felt in pregame warmups.
“I knew I was playing throughout the week,” said Michel, who broke his right shoulder blade Sept. 27 against Tennessee. “I practiced the whole week, practiced hard.”
Michel said his shoulder felt great against Kentucky despite taking a couple of shots right on it. Like Chubb, he expressed nothing but gratitude for being back on the field and now having Gurley back in the fold.
“It’s a family, no matter if it’s me and Nick or anybody else out there,” Michel said. “It’ll be great to have everybody back as one unit.”
6. Speaking of freshmen, the Bulldogs had three of theirs honored by the SEC when the league’s weekly awards were announced Monday night.
Chubb received his third freshman of the week award, kick returner Isaiah McKenzie was named special teams player of the week and outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter was named defensive lineman of the week.
McKenzie, a 5-foot-8, 164-pound flanker from Miami, made history against Kentucky by becoming only the 12th player in FBS history to have a punt return and a kickoff return for touchdowns in the same game. He went 90 yards for a TD on the opening kickoff and had a 59-yard punt return TD in the third quarter. He is tied with Missouri’s Marcus Murphy for third nationally with three TD returns this season (two off punts).
Carter, a 6-6, 237-pound outside linebacker from Norcross, got his first career start against the Wildcats and responded with a career-high nine tackles with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Carter and the rest of the starting defense played only three quarters and allowed just 285 total yards during that time.
Here’s another impressive stat: With Monday’s designations, a Georgia player has been included among the SEC’s weekly award winners in every week the Bulldogs have played this season except for the week of the Florida game (a 38-20 loss). Gurley was named the offensive player of the week twice, senior linebacker Amarlo Herrera and senior defensive back Damian Swann were each named defensive players of the week at different times and Michel has been named freshman of the week. In addition to Chubb’s other four honors and McKenzie and Carter’s recognitions this week, that’s 11 SEC honors overall.
7. Apparently Georgia fans aren’t the only ones who have a special affection for wide receiver Jonathon Rumph.
A cool little behind-the-scenes story came out of this past Saturday’s game against Kentucky. As is the routine in the postgame locker room, after Richt speaks to the team he asks sports communication director Claude Felton for the names of players who had been requested for interviews by the media. After reading off the long list that included many of the usual suspects, the last name Felton read off was Rumph’s.
According to those present in the locker room, that touched off a wild celebration by Rumph’s teammates. They were thrilled to see the oft-injured receiver finally get recognized for something he had done on the field. Rumph led the Bulldogs with 81 yards on four catches. All four of his receptions went for first downs, including a one-handed grab for a 19-yard gain and a 47-yard catch down the sideline.
“His teammates were so happy to see him get in there and play and play big,” Richt said after the game. “He really made his presence known. He’s finally healthy and playing ball and it was so nice to see him have a big day.”
8. Georgia’s basketball team opens the season on Friday on the road against Georgia Tech (7 p.m., ESPN3). Based on the Bulldogs’ performance against Georgia Southwestern in their exhibition game this past Thursday, it is unlikely they’ll arrive there brimming with confidence.
Georgia struggled on its way to a 65-61 win over its Division II visitors from Americus. Playing a number of different lineup combinations, the Bulldogs shot 39 percent from the field, 13 percent from 3-point range and 57 percent from the foul line. Their cause was not helped by the absence of their best shooter, Kenny Gaines, who remains sidelined with an illness.
“I probably played too many combinations, but I wanted to get everybody some time on the floor,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “So it was a good experience for us. I’m glad we got the first-game jitters out of the way. I was kind of surprised how some of our returning players were a little uneasy to start the game. That was a little disappointing.”
The Bulldogs were “hopeful” that Gaines can return by Friday.
One positive for the Bulldogs was the play of freshman Yante Maten. The 6-8, 240-pound forward from Detroit had 10 points, 12 rebounds and four assists and did not commit a foul in 28 minutes of play.
“He had a productive night,” Fox said. “I think once he learns what he’s doing he could be really good. I told him when I took him out, ‘you’re going to leave here with a double-double and think you played well and you’re going to look at the tape and say, oh my gosh.’”
Said Maten: “I probably could’ve played a little bit better, but I think I did adequate. I need to play defense a little better. It was all right.”
9. Bubba Watson didn’t really believe what he was saying when he told his caddie, “this will change everything when it goes in.”
He was standing in a bunker over this third shot 60 yards away from the pin on the par-5 18th hole at Sheshan International in Shanghai, China on Sunday. Watson had already blown a two-shot lead with a double-bogey and bogey on the two previous holes and now trailed the leaders in the World Golf Championship by a shot.
Watson blasted out of the bunker onto the green and his ball then rolled 25 feet before dropping into the cup for eagle.
“You always joke about holing it,” Watson said afterward. “And then it actually went in. I didn’t know how to react and so I just kind of screamed, and I lost my voice a little bit. It was one of those shots, a one-in-a-lifetime kind of shot. And so it was pretty neat.”
Especially after Watson went on to beat Tim Clark in a playoff.
10. This & that: Georgia’s women’s soccer team had to sweat it out on Selection Monday but received an NCAA tournament invite. It was the ninth bid for Bulldogs (10-7-2), who lost five of seven games down the stretch … Captains for Saturday’s game against Auburn as chosen by the Bulldogs’ coaches are center David Andrews and receiver Chris Conley on offense, noseguard Mike Thornton on defense and linebacker Kosta Vavlas for special teams. … Georgia has produced another “hype video” for this week’s game against Auburn. With Gurley coming back and the Bulldogs playing between the hedges at Sanford Stadium for the first time in 42 days, it’s appropriately named “We Return.” … The Georgia swimming and diving teams swept Georgia Tech and Savannah College of Art and Design on Friday at Tech’s Aquatic Center. The No. 4-ranked men’s team (5-1) now have won 48 straight meets against Georgia Tech dating back to the 1961-62 campaign. The Lady Bulldogs improved to 7-0 this season and boast 10 straight victories over the Jackets.