MONDAY MORNING REWIND
1. Two weeks ago, as Georgia was getting ready to play Kentucky and Todd Gurley remained sidelined under NCAA suspension, Mark Richt was asked for the umpteenth time by a reporter if he was absolutely certain that his star tailback planned to return to play for the Bulldogs. Richt clearly had become annoyed by the question.
“I don’t know why we keep bringing that up,” Richt snapped. “He’s there, he’s practicing, he can’t wait to play.”
With 5:21 left to play against Auburn this past Saturday night, 92,746 people at Sanford Stadium and several million more tuning in via television saw in living, breathing color why that subject was continually broached. As he lay writhing on the turf and grasping at his left knee, future earnings trickled away from Gurley like the tears that fell down his cheeks.
According to the latest projections by ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Gurley was in position to be selected with the eighth pick in next spring’s NFL draft. This past year’s No. 8 selection – Cleveland Browns defensive back Justin Gilbert – signed a four-year, $12.8 million deal that included a $7.65 million signing bonus. Here’s a list of the salaries this past spring’s first-rounders landed.
So that’s roughly what Gurley was looking at earning, provided he arrived at the draft healthy and trouble-free. Based on Sunday’s news that Gurley had indeed suffered a torn ACL ligament injury that will require surgery, he certainly won’t be drafted that early; how he far he falls is anybody’s guess at this point. While players can recover quicker than ever from ACL tears these days, it generally takes a skill player – and especially a running back – a calendar year to get back up to speed and fully recover. And then there is the increased odds of them suffer another knee injury.
Suffice it to say, Gurley’s stock will fall.
2. But Gurley had to know he was taking a chance by returning to play for Georgia. Those inherent risks were detailed in an eerily prescient piece published by Forbes magazine contributor and sports law expert Marc Edelman this past Friday.
Wrote Edelman: “Todd Gurley has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by returning to college football. … If Gurley does return, he not only delays … opportunities, but risks losing them forever. Indeed, a single injury over the next several weeks could derail an NFL career, hurt his draft status, or destroy his marketability on even the endorsement market.”
And Saturday’s sad scenario was not unanticipated. For a few years now, the NCAA has allowed schools to provide high-end insurance protection for their most valuable players (literally and figuratively). In the past, such insurance options beyond your standard school-issue could be provided only by the player or his family.
UGA had already had acquired a such a policy for Gurley before his suspension reportedly was worth $5 million for a total disability and $2.5 million for “loss of value” (meaning a drop in draft status). But ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell reported on Sunday that Georgia added to that in the last two weeks. Gurley’s latest policy — held by International Specialty Insurance — provides $10 million in disability protection and $5 million for loss of value. And Rovell’s sources are telling him that Georgia paid between $50,000 and $60,000 for that policy.
Georgia won’t confirm any of that. UGA officials said Sunday that Gurley’s insurance information is protected by federal privacy laws and Athletic Director Greg McGarity declined comment.
But that makes sense from a timeline standpoint. UGA hired William King of the Birmingham law firm of Lightfoot, Franklin and White to represent Gurley on the day the school suspended Gurley and effectively declared him ineligible (Oct. 9). In fact, we learned later it was King and Gurley who delayed Gurley’s NCAA reinstatement for two weeks after UGA completed its investigation of his alleged infractions in just two days.
Seems logical they might have been mulling over Gurley’s options during that time.
3. Regardless, everybody’s pretty certain we’ve seen the last of Gurley in Athens. It was a foregone conclusion – even by Richt’s own admission, that junior from Tarboro, N.C., was going to turn professional after this season. Saturday’s injury will only hasten that process. At this point, I’m thinking the NCAA won’t get its 40 hours of community service out of Gurley.
But almost lost in these tumultuous six weeks was Gurley’s tremendous accomplishments during his abbreviated Georgia career. Despite only playing in six games this season – and in just one quarter of one of those, Gurley finished with 932 rushing yards and nine touchdowns (plus 12 receptions for 57 yards). With 138 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries on Saturday, he passed Garrison Hearst to move into second behind Herschel Walker on Georgia’s all-time rushing list (3,285 yards) and second in touchdowns scored (44 total, 36 rushing).
“Todd has been fantastic,” Richt said Sunday. “Without a doubt one of the best running backs I’ve ever seen or ever coached. Practiced hard, played hard, loved the big games and played his heart out for Georgia. I’m just really proud that I had an opportunity to coach him.”
4. Also lost in this past Saturday’s game was the tremendous play of Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason. The statistics put up by the fifth-year senior from Marietta won’t catch the eye of anybody who didn’t actually watch the game – 10-of-19 passing for 123 yards and a touchdown. But those who watched his work in the Bulldogs’ 34-7 victory know how truly exceptionally he played.
Mason was incredibly accurate with his passes in the game. But Georgia’s receivers simply had a poor night hauling them in. Freshman Isaiah McKenzie dropped what should have been an almost perfectly-thrown 44-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter and senior Chris Conley dropped at least three other balls, including two that would have been scores.
“I think Hutson was really hot, believe it or not,” Richt said. “We just couldn’t hang onto the ball. I don’t know what would have happened if we had caught everything that he put on the money.”
5. And finally, a great game by Georgia’s defense. After Auburn zipped down the field to score on its first possession of the night, the Tigers managed just 222 yards the rest of the game, including just 105 yards rushing.
Several defensive players had excellent games, including linebacker Amarlo Herrera, with a team-high 12 tackles and an interception. But no one played bigger – or inspired more — than defensive back Damian Swann. The senior from Atlanta had eight stops in the game, but it was his speech after what turned out to be the Tigers’ only score of the game that turned the tide for the defense.
“I told my guys after they scored that first touchdown that we weren’t going to make this a shootout,” Swann told reporters after Saturday’s game. “We’re going to play fundamentally sound. We’re going to execute our game plan.”
And so they did.