JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Georgia and Nebraska are playing with backup quarterbacks — all the more reason to focus on two of the top running backs in the country.
Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah could make the Gator Bowl a ground-and-pound celebration on New Year’s Day.
Gurley, a 6-foot-1, 232-pound sophomore, has 903 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns despite missing three-plus games with an ankle injury. He needs 93 yards on the ground against the Cornhuskers on Wednesday to become the third player in school history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Herschel Walker (1980-83) and Knowshon Moreno (2007-08) also accomplished the feat.
Abdullah, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior, has 1,568 yards and eight touchdowns. Only three Cornhuskers — Mike Rozier, Ahman Green and Lawrence Phillips — have enjoyed better single seasons than Abdullah.
“There’s no doubt they’re both great backs,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “They’re different. They have different styles, obviously built differently. ... But great players come in a lot of different shapes and sizes and a lot of different skill sets.”
The 23rd-ranked Bulldogs (8-4) and Cornhuskers (8-4) likely will rely on both in the Gator Bowl, a rematch of last year’s Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
Georgia is playing its second consecutive game without four-year starter Aaron Murray, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Kentucky on Nov. 23. Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, meanwhile, was limited to four games this season because of a left foot injury.
Without Murray, Gurley ran 20 times for 122 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-34 double-overtime victory against Georgia Tech. He also caught four passes for 36 yards and a score.
“We have a lot of respect for Gurley,” said Pelini, whose defense allowed Gurley to run for 125 yards and a touchdown last year. “He’s a heck of a football player with his size and his strength. He can do a lot of different things in the running game and the passing game.”
So can Abdullah, who has 51 career receptions for 421 yards and four TDs.
“He’s a solid dude, a real tough, physical runner,” Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith said. “The guy can really play football, a hard-nosed guy, gets after it, has great vision, can cut back. We’ve got our hands full. He’s a problem ‘cause he’s such a talented back.”
Aside from the star running backs, here are five things to know about Georgia and Nebraska heading into the Gator Bowl.