Welcome to the Todd Gurley Appreciation Society!

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Todd Gurley showed again Saturday why he's considered the nation's best running back. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
Todd Gurley showed again Saturday why he's considered the nation's best running back. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Todd Gurley showed again Saturday why he’s considered the nation’s best running back. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

I’ll have more on Georgia’s 45-21 triumph over old rival Clemson on a steamy night in Sanford Stadium, but first I wanted to offer a few quick thoughts:

Todd Gurley is one of those special players we need to savor while we have the tremendous pleasure of watching him. He certainly placed himself prominently in the early-season Heisman Trophy conversations with Saturday night’s stats: 198 yards on 15 carries and four touchdowns, plus a 100-yard-plus kickoff return that was a thing of beauty.

I’d said before the game that I wasn’t crazy about the game plan to play all Georgia’s tailbacks, meaning fewer carries for Gurley, and with the score tied 21-21 at halftime and Gurley having carried the ball only four times (not counting his return), I thought my worst fears were being realized.

But I’m willing to concede that Mark Richt and Mike Bobo had method in their madness on one of the most humid nights I can ever recall at a Bulldog football game. “We wanted to keep everybody fresh,” Richt said, and while there ended up being a few wasted offensive series mid-game that didn’t go anywhere while Gurley was on the sideline, in the end the strategy paid big dividends as freshman backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel showed tantatalizing glimpses of Georgia’s post-Gurley future at tailback. No. 2 back Keith Marshall didn’t really look to be back to pre-injury form yet, but the Dogs’ bountiful backfield corps made that pretty much a nonfactor in the game.

A wrinkle I especially liked came early in the game as Michel came in with Gurley still at tailback and lined up as a flanker, taking a reverse around left end for an 11-yard gain. I’m betting we see that again.

Quarterback Hutson Mason’s performance Saturday night (18 of 26 passes for 131 yards) isn’t going to make anyone forget about all those spectacular Aaron Murray back-shoulder throws, but he was, as Richt said, solid and did a good job of being a reliable Alabama-style game manager. Plus, of course, he didn’t have his full complement of wide receivers available, which no doubt was a factor in Georgia’s reluctance to try stretching the field against the Tigers. And he was going up against a formidable pass rush.

Thankfully, once the running game got on track, Georgia didn’t need its passing game at all in the fourth quarter. But you can bet that upcoming opponents (especially South Carolina) will look at Saturday’s game video and think maybe they need to sell out against the run and dare Mason to beat them with his arm. Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley, we’re going to need you back soon!

Jeremy Pruitt's defense played a superb second half. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Jeremy Pruitt’s defense played a superb second half. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

As for Georgia’s revamped defense under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, things got off to a bit of a rough start, with the Tigers marching down the field for a score on their first drive and hitting a few long passes for a couple more scores as they outgained the Dogs 276 yards to 113 yards in the first half. But even when Pruitt’s defense was getting burned, you could see improvement over last year. On a couple of those Clemson passes, the defenders were in the right spot and just got beaten by a superb throw.

And you can’t ask for much better than the Georgia D gave in the second half, shutting out the Tigers’ uptempo offense completely and allowing only one first down, 15 yards passing and no yards on the ground. I don’t know if it was a matter of halftime adjustments or the players’ focus just improving, but it did look to me like Georgia was the better conditioned team on a night that felt like a sauna. That bodes well for the rest of the season.

I mentioned Clemson’s pass rush earlier, but the superior pass rush in this game proved to be Georgia’s, as the Dawgs, led by a terrific Leonard Floyd, harassed Clemson’s quarterbacks all night long, racking up five sacks.

At this point, I’d say the defense is definitely ahead of where it was last year while the offense still has a ways to go, despite that running attack. Best of all, special teams looked tremendously improved!

Lastly, this was a vintage Georgia-Clemson game and, even with the wilting weather, a complete blast to watch. Here’s hoping Greg McGarity and staff get busy and sign up another home-and-home with the Tigers before another decade goes by.

Feel free to share your own thoughts on Georgia’s big opening win!

Go Dogs!

Got something you want to discuss concerning the new football season? Or a question about UGA athletics in general for the Junkyard Blawg? Email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

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