ATHENS -- A loud roar erupted from the Sanford Stadium crowd when Keith Marshall barreled into the end zone against South Carolina.
Georgia’s eventual 52-20 victory had long been in hand for Georgia, but it was Marshall’s first carry of the game. While it was only from 3 yards out and in the fourth quarter, the ovation spoke for itself.
No longer in the spotlight, Marshall has become a player Georgia fans continue to pull for.
Against Tennessee in 2013, Marshall tore his anterior cruciate ligament and missed most of the season. The knee injury didn’t heal in time for his 2014 campaign, and Marshall was forced to sit after seeing time in the first three games. Since then, he has been passed on the depth chart by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
Now that his knee has recovered, his role on the team has changed.
Marshall has been asked to be an integral part of Georgia’s kickoff coverage team, something he did little of in previous seasons. But with Marshall not seeing many snaps as a runner, the Bulldogs are getting plenty of use out of him in this phase of the game.
“I have no problem doing it,” Marshall said. “I did it my sophomore year and a little bit last year. It’s fun to play, especially the first play of the game.”
Georgia head coach Mark Richt said Marshall’s veteran presence has helped the kickoff coverage unit, considering the number of true freshmen who contribute on it.
Richt also mentioned that with Georgia going deep at running back, he can afford to use Marshall in this manner.
“That’s been good for the young guys to have him there,” Richt said. “His job is a very important one. This moment, we have enough depth at the running back position where we’re not as concerned. We’ve got Sony (Michel) starting on three (special teams groups). Last year, when you had some of the running back (injury) issues we had, I guarantee we didn’t have a running back on one of those teams.”
As a runner, Marshall has totaled 19 carries for 103 yards and three touchdowns, with most of that coming in mop-up duty. On special teams, Marshall has totaled two tackles, both of which came against the Gamecocks.
Although Marshall, who said he feels just as fast as he was before the ACL injury, is now Georgia’s third-string back, Michel expects Marshall to get an opportunity to contribute more on offense as the season continues.
“Competitively, he’s still into it,” Michel said. “We all compete with each other. We’re all that close to each other. He’s giving it all in practice. He accepted the role he plays. We’ve all accepted the role we play.”
Marshall hasn’t complained or taken issue with the fact he has been passed on the depth chart while his knee healed. It’s also tough to argue given how well Chubb and Michel have performed in their short time with the program.
Richt said he still sees a motivated Marshall who brings his best to practice each day.
“He’s really shown up every day and worked hard,” Richt said. “He has a good attitude. I’ve got no complaints with him. Whatever role we’re asking him to play, he’s playing it and to the best of his ability. I haven’t seen any bad body language or anything like that in practice. He’s been a great teammate.”
Against Southern on Saturday, Marshall should see plenty of chances to get some playing time at running back. And when he does, the fans inside Sanford Stadium are expected to once again cheer his name.
“I think the fans know what he’s capable of and what he’s done in the past,” Michel said. “He’s done great things for Georgia and will probably do more great things for Georgia.”