ATHENS -- Todd Gurley has yet to play a college football game, but his hairstyle makes him recognizable. So occasionally the freshman tailback will be at a bus stop on Georgias campus when someone asks if hes Todd Gurley.
And Im like, Yeah thats me, Gurley said.
Gurley got used to it pretty quickly, as did Keith Marshall, his fellow freshman. For reasons good and bad, the tailback position is the most visible at Georgia these days.
Lately, it has been mostly bad, and Gurley and Marshall are the latest antidotes. Or at least thats what the Bulldogs hope.
The programs behavioral issues at tailback have been well-documented. But on the field, the lack of a consistent running game has been a sore point the past two seasons. And if the sixth-ranked Bulldogs are to do anything this year, the running game -- from the tailbacks to the uncertain offensive line -- is the paramount concern.
Gurley seems to get it.
In the SEC, in order to win a game, you have to run the ball. In order to be a conference champion, you have to have a running game, Gurley said.
Isaiah Crowell pronounced this spring he wanted to mount a Heisman campaign this fall. A few months later the SECs freshman of the year from 2011 was arrested and dismissed from the team.
Forget a Heisman; at this point the Bulldogs just want their tailbacks to be dependable.
I think thats the No. 1 question, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. Coming into this season, before anything even happened with our situation at running back, we were looking to build consistency and depth at that position. Thats why we recruited those two kids. And theyve brought that to us. Theyve been dependable at practice. And were looking forward to seeing them play.
Ken Malcome, a sophomore with just two college starts, will get the start Saturday against Buffalo. After that, the depth chart is a three-way tie between Gurley, Marshall and senior Richard Samuel, who also will play fullback.
But the freshmen are the ones who have aroused the most curiosity. The preseason has done little to douse that as Gurley led the team in rushing yards in each of three scrimmages.
Even Gurley is trying to lessen the expectations that emerged from the scrimmage stats.
We werent going against the first team, he said, before adding, The second team is pretty good.
But teammates havent been too helpful in keeping expectations low. Gurley drew comparisons to Trent Richardson, the former Alabama star now with the Cleveland Browns. And senior linebacker Christian Robinson said Marshall made a move in practice that he hadnt seen since receiver A.J. Green was on campus.
He shook two people, and they both fell down, Robinson said. Thats pretty special to me. I havent seen someone just blatantly fall down because someone juked them, so I want them to be turned loose so they can stop hitting us.
Bobo, who tends to choose his words carefully, said he has been pleasantly surprised by how well the offense has been able to run this preseason. Its more than running and blocking, its the ability to get a play called right away and to be strong in the other technical aspects of play execution.
Weve still go out there and play ballgames, and see how we handle live action, Bobo said. But Ive been pleased with what weve done.
Another thing Bobo has been thankful for is the Herschel Walker comparisons have been muted. He thinks thats because Marshall and Gurley are from North Carolina, not Georgia.
So much was put on Isaiah because hes from in-state; (that) had a lot to do with it, said Bobo, himself a Thomasville native and former Bulldogs quarterback.
The burden of expectations also be lessened for Gurley and Marshall because they came in together, whereas Crowell was seen as the lone savior. When they were being recruited last year, it was in tandem.
Thats what the coaches told (us). They said we could be the 1-2 punch from North Carolina, Marshall said. But obviously weve got other running backs, Ken and Richard, so I think everybody will get their chance to do well.
And as they get that chance, many hopeful eyes will be trained on them.