Let the naysayers beware.
Georgia’s not the same football team without Todd Gurley.
And, yes, it might be even better if he comes back. But let the media remain obsessed with his potential return. His teammates aren’t.
"We heard a lot of naysayers say we wouldn’t be anything without number three," receiver Chris Conley told GeorgiaDogs.com. "We love Todd, but we feel like we are a team that has capable players to fill in for our starters when they go down. The guys took his loss to heart. We know how to win in this conference, and we’ve got to continue to prove it."
Two weeks ago, when Georgia destroyed 23rd-ranked Missouri, 34-0, in its first outing sans Gurley, you could believe the team collectively rose to the occasion. Emotions can carry you through a game.
But when Georgia left the field at halftime Saturday in Little Rock with a 38-6 lead, you had to believe there was something more at work here.
Maybe not. "Soon as we got off the bus, we had confidence we could win the game," linebacker Leonard Floyd told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald. "Everybody doubted us. We want to change everybody, the way they think about Georgia."
That process is well-underway. During the waning moments of the FSU-Notre Dame telecast, a Top Ten Results graphic appeared. Kirk Herbstreit immediately proclaimed, "That Georgia team has really played with a big chip on its shoulder the past two weeks."
Broadcast partner Chris Fowler quickly added: "That final score is not indicative of how close that game was."
True, Georgia turned that 38-6 halftime lead into a 45-32 win, but that inspired first half allowed for plenty of room to coast.
Are we reading too much emotion into these two outstanding performances?
"I think the fans and everybody else get more riled up about it than we do," coach Mark Richt told Weiszer. "We just show up and go to work."
I beg to differ. Here’s a team that couldn’t slow down Vanderbilt or Tennessee. They subtract their marquee player, and suddenly they’re steamrolling people?
The defense continues to improve and seems to have finally been turned loose, comfortable in defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s new system. The secondary seems vastly improved, and it benefits from the opposing quarterbacks being under constant pressure.
Georgia sacked Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen four times Saturday—in the first half. Georgia also forced three turnovers—in the first half.
Try to wrap your mind around this statistic: the first half time of possession was Georgia 10:17, Arkansas 19:43, but Georgia led, 38-6.
Hard to imagine. Especially without you-know-who in the backfield.
Arkansas kept the ball for 7:51 on its opening touchdown drive. Georgia answered in 88 seconds. Hutson Mason, the quarterback who can’t throw the long ball, hit Conley for 48 yards and then threw to Michael Bennett for 18.
That was the plan devised by offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
"He wanted to start out aggressive, and we did," Mason told Weiszer. "I think when we execute, it gives him a little more faith that we can do it. I know, early in the season, ‘We’re not throwing the ball deep, we’re not very good at it,’ and everyone wanted to throw in the towel."
Georgia’s longest scoring drive of the half lasted 3:58. It’s shortest, 14 seconds.
Conley’s summation: "When a defense is creating turnovers like that, and Hutson starts to gun it, we can score a lot of points very fast."
We’ve all overlooked one very vital cog in the Bulldog engine, and that’s the new running back, Nick Chubb. With 202 yards on 30 carries, Chubb joined Herschel Walker and Rodney Hampton in an elite trio of freshmen who’ve had 200 yard rushing games for Georgia. He even sounded a little like Walker after the game.
"We have very good linemen and put together a very good scheme that helped me break open some runs," Chubb told GeorgiaDogs.com. "The linemen are very talented here and it makes my job easier."
Perhaps we’ve just witnessed the perfect storm: a maturing quarterback and a maturing defense both getting comfortable, and a galvanizing issue around which to rally. Georgia has learned what it takes, and what it feels like, to perform at an elite level.
It’s doubtful that the Dogs will lose that feeling. Even if someone returns.