Home run hitters helping Georgia

November 24, 2012 

ATHENS -- A few years ago, there was a rumor that Georgia head coach Mark Richt said his program needed a “home run hitter” at running back. After Knowshon Moreno, a player who definitely fit that category, left for the NFL, Georgia had a few “singles hitters” at the position.

Caleb King and Washaun Ealey were nothing special and didn‘t last long.

Then last year, Georgia struck out with Isaiah Crowell, or maybe he struck out with them. Crowell had the talent but lacked, well, a lot to be the type of star Georgia needed him to be at the position.

But this year has been a very different story. The Bulldogs have not one, but two stars at running back who can hit it out of the park.

We’re using baseball terms here, but you know what we mean. To win in the SEC, teams have to run the football effectively. They have to have a game-changer, someone who can impact a game at any moment.

Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have done just that. The two freshman running backs have teamed up to be one of the best duos in the country. The two have been the best freshman duo in Georgia history with 1,858 yards. That easily beats Thomas Brown and Danny Ware, who combined for 1,567 yards in 2004.

“For them to come in and to do what they’ve done has been awesome for our offense,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “They’re very talented and have worked extremely hard.”

Sure, Georgia is going to the SEC title game this week and blew out Georgia Tech on Saturday because of the defense, which all of a sudden looks as good as it did last year. But all of this is also happening because the Bulldogs have found stars in the backfield.

Gurley, who now has 1,138 rushing yards, is the only true freshman running back since Herschel Walker to surpass 1,000 yards rushing. Think about that. There have been many good running backs at Georgia since the early-1980s, but Gurley is the only one to surpass that impressive mark.

And Marshall, who was the higher rated prospect coming out of high school in February, has done pretty well as the second option. He has 720 yards on the ground and could be the main back for most any other team in the country.

No one could have predicted this. Sure, there was hope they’d be good. But even the players couldn’t have predicted this level of personal success.

“Not this,” Gurley said. “Not all this. It’s a blessing to have yards that I have. I’m just happy to death.”

“I hoped we’d have this much success and we’d be able to contribute this much, but you just never know,” Marshall said.

This has been the most prolific Georgia offense in the program’s history. The Bulldogs have scored 456 points in 12 games, which breaks the record first set in 2002 when Georgia scored 450 points in 14 games.

Isn’t it ironic this comes a year after the Bulldogs had a running back that all too frequently tapped the top of his helmet in need of a break? Crowell quickly gained the reputation of not being tough enough and a player who couldn‘t be counted on, but Gurley and Marshall have been the exact opposite.

“I think just overall the whole year, we’ve had some consistency at the running back position,” Bobo said. “Knock on wood, we haven’t had injuries. We know what we’ve got each week at the position. We don’t have to alter the game plan a lot for who is at tailback, which has been a plus for us.”

There’s no doubt Gurley and Marshall, nicknamed “Gurshall” by teammates, have tremendous talent. But there’s a confidence in their game that truly makes them special.

“I’m confident in my ability, and I know he is, too,” Marshall said. “We try not to get caught up in that ‘He’s just a freshman’ thing, cause it doesn’t really matter when you’re out there playing.”

“My teammates believe in me, so I just had to believe in myself and do what they wanted me to do,” Gurley said. “It’s been fun. It’s a dream come true.”

This week, Gurley and Marshall will get their biggest test of all, when they face one of the top rushing defenses in the country in Alabama. If Georgia raises the SEC trophy, you can bet the dynamic freshman duo will be a major reason.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter@yahoo.com.

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