Todd Gurley vs. Sony Michel: Who was the better Georgia running back?
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Todd Gurley and Sony Michel differ on the third-best running back in Georgia history
Sony Michel and Todd Gurley both agreed. On recent interviews with Adam Lefkoe of Bleacher Report, the two both stated Herschel Walker was Georgia’s best running back of all-time. He’s the school’s most recent Heisman Trophy winner and the all-time leading rusher in spite of 0nly playing three seasons in Athens.
They also both picked Nick Chubb as the second-best. Chubb is the school’s second all-time leading rusher and that’s with him missing several games due to a knee injury he sustained in his sophomore season.
But when talking about the third-best Georgia running back of all-time, the two Georgia greats differed. Gurley said Michel, while Michel picked Gurley. And it got us thinking, who was the better running back: Gurley or Michel?
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We’ve decided to look at a few different factors and see how the two running backs stack up.
Statistics: Gurley and Michel were both on the 2014 roster, with Gurley in his junior season and Michel being a freshman. Michel went on to stay for four seasons, while Gurley declared for the NFL draft after just three seasons.
Michel actually had more 1,000 yard rushing seasons, but he never had a statistical season that topped Gurley’s freshman campaign where he rushed for 1,385 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Gurley also had the best pass-catching season between the two running backs, as he caught 37 passes for 411 yards in just 10 games during the 2013 season.
In 30 career games, Gurley finished with 3,285 rushing yards and 36 rushing touchdowns. Michel finished his career with 3,638 rushing yards and 33 rushing touchdowns. But those numbers came over the course of 44 career games.
Raw totals would say to give the edge to Michel. But Karl Malone finished with more career points than Michael Jordan. Raw numbers aren’t everything, and due to superior averages, we’re going to give the edge to Gurley.
Signature moment: For Gurley, it’s complicated given the suspension during his junior season. If you had to pick an on-field moment, I think you’d have to pick his kickoff return against Clemson in the season-opening game of the 2014 season. You don’t see kick returns from players of Gurley’s size often. You see kickoff return touchdowns from guys like Gurley even less.
Georgia reclaimed the lead on the play and never looked back in a game that looked like it was going to be a great sign of things to come.
For Michel, it’s much easier, and ultimately more iconic. It’s his walk-off touchdown in double overtime to win the Rose Bowl. It was the perfect punctuation mark an incredible Georgia football win. And him doing the jazz hands celebration has never been cooler as he waved goodbye the Oklahoma defense one last time.
In terms of iconic Georgia football plays from the 21st century, Michel’s has an argument for being the best for the Georgia football program.
Best game: For Gurley, it’s the Clemson game from 2014. He ran for more yards against Tennessee that season — 208 — and had a huge performance in the 2012 SEC Championship Game against Alabama when he ran for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns.
But against Clemson, he could do no wrong. He rushed for 198 yards on just 15 carries while scoring 3 rushing touchdowns. There was also the aforementioned kickoff return. That game was Gurley at the height of his powers and when it became crystallized that he could realistically be the best player in college football
For Michel, it’s the Oklahoma game. In addition to the 181 rushing yards on 11 carries, he had another 41 receiving yards. He scored 4 touchdowns against the Sooners, including the game-winner. And he did all of that in a game where Georgia trailed by 17 points just before halftime.
Maybe Michel gets a bump because of the magnitude of the College Football Playoff game, but in what was the biggest game in a while for the Georgia football program, Michel absolutely delivered.
Importance to the program: Both running backs were first-round picks. Gurley helped give Mark Richt one last push at a national title in 2012. Michel got even closer to delivering Georgia a national title in 2017. Both guys are a big reason why people know Georgia as RBU, and that is absolutely a recruiting tool Georgia uses.
But in terms of how much outside people associate them with the University of Georgia, Gurley has a bigger reach. Part of that might be attributed to the fact that Gurley is the biggest star for the Los Angeles Rams, while Michel may not even be the best former Georgia Bulldog on the New England Patriots with David Andrews at center.
To put this in movie terms, Michel was Brad Pitt in Ocean’s 11. A huge star, and rightfully so. But for Michel’s time in Athens, and much like George Clooney’s time on screen, Chubb was the bigger star. Even without Michel, Georgia was still going to be very good with Chubb at running back.
Gurley meanwhile is like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. His entire time in Athens was basically him asking people, “Are you not entertained?” And people were, and still are, with what Gurley did in a Georgia jersey.
Verdict: Gurley was the bigger icon during his time in Athens. Michel was more dependable and part of perhaps the greatest running back duo in college football history. Michel played a key role on a team that played for a national championship. Gurley likely would’ve done the same had the College Football Playoff been around in 2012.
And who knows how many rushing yards Gurley would’ve finished with if he hadn’t been suspended or torn his ACL in his junior season. And what if Michel heads to the NFL after his junior season? Had that happened, this probably isn’t even a discussion.
The reality is, you can’t honestly put one over the other. When it comes to ranking these two Georgia running backs, it is of my belief that you have to call it a tie. That might be cowardly, but they were and still are both fantastic running backs and ambassadors for Georgia football.
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