They are the third and fourth leading rushers in University of Georgia football history. Between them, Sony Michel and Todd Gurley ran for almost 7,000 yards as Bulldogs.

They were on the same field Sunday, on opposite sides in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and only one of them had significant numbers to show for this night’s work.

Michel, a rookie with the New England Patriots, rallied after a slow first half and finished with 94 yards on 18 carries and scored the game’s only touchdown on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter. That touchdown broke a 3-3 tie and helped send the Patriots to a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

“I will send him a text later and congratulate him,” Gurley said of Michel after the game.

Gurley mustered just 35 yards rushing on 10 carries, almost half of the yards (16) on one play. The Rams’ fourth-year running back, who in the past two weeks denied reports of a nagging issue with a left knee strain, had just three carries for 10 yards in the first half.

Rams running back Todd Gurley talks about the team's performance in the Super Bowl in Atlanta. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Their UGA careers overlapped for one season, 2014, when Michel was a freshman.  A few days before their Super Bowl meeting, Michel said Gurley was like a “big brother” to him that season. And Gurley joked that he taught Michel everything the younger running back knows about playing the position.

Like Gurley, Michel did little in the first half Sunday night: He had six carries for 22 yards in the first quarter and no carries in the second quarter. He did more in the third quarter (four carries for 29 yards) and even more in the fourth (eight carries for 43 yards).

Michel’s 2-yard touchdown run with seven minutes remaining proved to be the margin of difference in the defense-dominated game. Later, his game-long 26-yard run ignited a drive that culminated with a field goal for a 13-3 lead with just over a minute to play.

“It’s not really about me. It’s about this team,” Michel said after the game. “They took me under their wing, and I just appreciate them. I’m thankful. I’m blessed.”

“What an incredible rookie season he’s had,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said of Michel, who scored a rookie-record six postseason touchdowns. “Just so proud of him.”

Brady said Michel “ran hard, got some tough yards” against the Rams. “There wasn’t a lot of space at times, but (he) fought his way through,” Brady said.

Gurley’s performance, on the other hand, followed an NFC Championship game in which he played 32 snaps and had only four carries for 10 yards.  The Rams haven’t listed Gurley on their injury report in the past three weeks, and coach Sean McVay described Gurley to a pool reporter on Saturday, the eve of the game, as “feeling good, a hundred percent.”

“We expect him to play a big role in this game,” McVay had said.

Didn’t happen.

“You just have to give credit to the Patriots,” Gurley said. “They’ve been (in the Super Bowl) the last three years in a row for a reason. They got the job done again.”

Asked how the Patriots’ defense stopped Gurley, Rams running back C.J. Anderson offered: “Gap control. They played New England football. That’s what they do. They’ve been doing that for years. So nothing changed. We just didn’t execute today, plain and simple.”

Both Gurley and Michel had played in big championship games in Atlanta before.

Less than 13 months before he returned for the Super Bowl,  Michel played in college football’s national championship game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, his last game with UGA.  And back in 2012, Gurley played in the SEC Championship game in the Georgia Dome, The Benz’s predecessor. Georgia lost both of those games – to Alabama narrowly in both cases. 

Michel also played in the 2017 SEC Championship game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Georgia beat Auburn in that one. 

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