‘Gurshall’ manages to stay durable, too

semerson@macon.comNovember 14, 2012 

ATHENS -- The eye-popping stats abound when it comes to Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, the freshman tailback tandem otherwise known as “Gurshall.”

One statistic, however, might be the most amazing: Number of missed practices since this season started (zero). For a program that had major durability issues at tailback the past couple years, especially with a star freshman last year, the best news may be that Gurshall arrives at the 10th game with hardly an ice pack necessary.

“I feel good,” Marshall said after Monday’s practice. “I’m not running the ball as much and not taking as much of a beating as I did in high school.”

“I feel pretty good now,” Gurley said Tuesday. “I was a little banged up. But now I’m starting to get back to where I was at the beginning of the season.”

It’s yet another example of how much an improvement the tandem has been over the one-year Isaiah Crowell era.

At this point last year, Crowell had rushed for 821 yards, and that was despite missing one game because of suspension, as well as the first quarter of another game for discipline. But he had also carried the ball 170 times, and the wear and tear showed down the stretch. A series of injuries limited him to just 15 carries during the final four games.

This year the load has been much better, aided by the ability to split carries without much of a drop-off from Gurley (973 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) to Marshall (625, six touchdowns).

Gurley has carried the ball 149 times, and Marshall is at 93 carries. Gurley had a couple of games (Tennessee, Florida) in which he was a workhorse, but there have been times he only carried the ball eight times. He only got the ball 11 times at Auburn on Saturday, when Marshall only had eight carries.

This was done in large part by design. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said the staff recognized the tailbacks needed a lighter load, and even if Crowell hadn’t been dismissed in June, there was going to be an emphasis on splitting carries.

But the fact Gurley and Marshall are holding up so well means the staff doesn’t have to make plans to lighten their load during the next two weeks, in anticipation of keeping them fresh for the SEC championship game.

“It’s kept them from getting too many carries where a true freshman might really get beat down,” head coach Mark Richt said.

“That’s the good thing about coming in and having someone else,” Marshall said. “Isaiah he had other good runners last year, but he was the main guy.”

Of course, there’s another reason the two haven’t had to carry heavy loads: their ability to break long runs.

Crowell’s longest run last year was for 29 yards. Gurley and Marshall, however, have shown a consistent breakaway ability, Marshall having scored from 75, 70, 62 and 52 yards, and Gurley having touchdown runs of 55, 38 and 29.

When running backs have runs like that, teams don’t need long, grind-it-out drives.

“It’s unbelievable. It feels like the Oregon offense sometimes, how they break through with those big 40-, 50-, 60-, 70-yard touchdown runs,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said.

Murray recounted the start of a drive at Auburn, saying, “We get in the huddle before the series, and the offensive line is like, ‘Can we just get one big run to get this drive over already?’”

Three plays later Marshall scored from 62 yards.

“I just see they always have those big runs, and those running backs bursting for 50-, 60-yard gains. And we’ve never really had that since I’ve been here offensively, those backs able to break those long runs,” Murray said. “We’ve had 10, 12 or more big-time runs from those guys. It always makes the drives pretty easier, and it’s pretty cool to see.”

That sets up the record watch. Neither is likely to catch Herschel Walker’s mark for a Georgia freshman (1,616 in 1980). But put together, the Gurshall tandem is 19 yards away from exceeding Walker’s mark.

And, by the way, they will do it in fewer carries: Walker had 274 that year, and Gurley and Marshall have just 242.

“It’s a long season. We’ve still got three more games to go and a bowl game,” Bobo said. “Early in the year people wanted to know why this guy wasn’t getting 25-plus carries every game. It’s hard for anybody to do that, especially young guys when he’s dealing with not just football, but the first year in college, the academics, study hall. I mean it’s a grind on those kids, not only physically but mentally. We try to take care of them where they can be fresh in the second half of the season. And I think that’s showing right now, and hopefully it’ll continue.”

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