Two years ago, the Georgia Bulldogs were looking for a “home run hitter” at running back. That was the term used by head coach Mark Richt for a needed star at the very important position in the backfield.
Isaiah Crowell had led Georgia in 2011 with 850 yards rushing, but he was kicked off the team in June 2012 after being arrested on weapons charges. Carlton Thomas, the second-leading rusher in 2011, transferred. So the leading returner in rushing yards was 5-foot-6 Brandon Harton, who had 247 yards the previous season.
But Georgia had recruited running backs hard leading up to the 2012 season and gave two freshmen the opportunity to take over. Keith Marshall was actually higher rated than Todd Gurley coming out of high school, but it didn’t take long to know Gurley was the star.
In two years, Gurley has become an answer to a question that Georgia fans ask occasionally. Who is the best running back since Herschel Walker? Well, two seasons and 2,374 yards later, Gurley might be the answer.
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If Gurley rushes for 858 yards this season, he will pass Garrison Hearst for second place behind Walker in career rushing yards at Georgia. That will undoubtedly solve any debate about who is second-best behind No. 34.
The Bulldogs will need Gurley to rush for that amount and much more if they are to do anything special this season. Marshall also will be important. He returns after tearing his ACL in the Tennessee game last October. The two could be the most talented twosome in the country at running back.
But there’s more to this story than just Gurley and Marshall. Georgia has two potential stars, two more potential “home run hitters” in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
Chubb, from Cedartown, was the fourth-ranked running back in the country by 247Sports.com, sixth-best by Rivals.com and the ninth-best by Scout.com. Michel, from Plantation, Florida, was ranked as the second-best running back in the nation by Scout, the sixth-best by 247Sports and rated 14th by Rivals.
Just to compare, two years ago, both Scout.com and 247Sports.com had Marshall as their top-rated running back nationally, while Rivals had Marshall rated second-best. Gurley was rated highest by Rivals (fifth-best running back in the country), followed by sixth-best by 247Sports and 13th-best by Scout.
The difference is the opportunity Gurley and Marshall had two years ago. They had no one in their way, while Chubb and Michel have to deal with Gurley and Marshall being above them on the depth chart.
But what a quartet of running backs this could be for Georgia. And even though they might not “technically” be needed, Chubb and Michel are making so much of an early impression there’s little doubt they’ll play this season.
The fan base can’t seem to wait to see the new freshmen. They’re causing that much of a stir.
Georgia has a new quarterback in Hutson Mason, and not everyone is convinced he’s going to be a star in his one season as the starter. But all he has to do is turn around and hand the ball off to one of these four running backs, and as long as Georgia’s offense line isn’t horrible the Bulldogs should get some yards.
Chances are if Gurley has a good season he’ll go pro, so you’ll know he’ll want carries and will want to prove his worth. It’s conceivable that Marshall could have a great season and be tempted by the NFL, but his shot at being the star next year might keep him around.
So how many carries could these four running backs get? Well, Georgia will be careful with Gurley and Marshall. It’s not like they’re the only star backs on the roster, so they can spread out the carries if they want. But is it not out of the question for Georgia to have between 40-50 carries per game with this group?
And, remember, a more effective running game will only give the suspect Georgia defense more time to rest in between series.
But Chubb and Michel could be the key. We know what the other two can do if healthy, but if the freshman duo produces, the Georgia offense might be unstoppable.
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