Bill Shanks

Georgia could run its way into record books

Every year when I get together with friends before the start of the college football season, we go around the table to give our predictions. We even share who we believe will be a breakout player on Georgia’s football team.

But this year, I threw in another category. I wanted to know what everyone thought would be the total number of rushing yards for the Bulldogs this season.

Last year, Georgia rushed for 2,209 rushing yards, which was pretty good considering Todd Gurley missed three games and Keith Marshall played in only five games after injuring his knee in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Little did I know that Georgia would go out a day after our predictions and rush for 328 yards against Clemson. That puts the Bulldogs on pace for just less than 4,000 rushing yards for the season, which far surpasses any prediction from my group. Those guesses ranged from 2,977 yards (my prediction) to 2,500.

Saturday night proved Gurley is the best player in America. He’s primed to have a tremendous season, as long as he stays healthy. Gurley rushed for 198 yards against the Tigers, and while he probably won’t have that amount every week, he could easily surpass the 1,385 yards he had his freshman season.

Marshall looked rusty, which is expected considering his injury. But remember, Marshall was rated higher than Gurley coming out of high school, so he has great talent. And the two freshmen, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, were every bit as advertised. They looked great.

What is the ceiling for this group of four running backs? It might be too much to ask for them to get 328 yards every game, but they could approach that mark in several more games, especially against teams that might have a worse run defense than Clemson.

I went back to see which Georgia team had the most rushing yards in program history. The first one that came to mind was the team in the mid-1980s that featured Keith Henderson (731 rushing yards), Tim Worley (627) and Lars Tate (626). But the 1985 Bulldogs were actually third in the record books with 3,249 rushing yards.

David McCluskey added 440 rushing yards and the quarterback, James Jackson, had 389 that season. Add in Fred Lane (129) and Tron Jackson (128), and you had a team that ran its way into the record books.

The best rushing team in Georgia’s history was in 1971, when Vince Dooley’s Bulldogs ran for 3,337 yards. Quarterback Andy Johnson led Georgia with 870 yards, followed by Jimmy Poulos (733), Bob Honeycutt (530), Ricky Lake (393), James Ray (293), Hal Bissell (168) and Donnie Allen (141).

Next in line is the 1975 Georgia team that had 3,267 rushing yards. Glynn Harrison led the way with 894 rushing yards. He was joined by Kevin McLee (806), Ray Goff (474), Andy Reid (468), Al Pollard (266) and Rayfield Williams (180).

A few years ago, Georgia had a good trio in Thomas Brown, Danny Ware and Kregg Lumpkin. Those three were together in the 2005 and 2006 seasons and were very effective. But in 2005 the group combined for 1,563 yards and then 1,380 yards the next season. They were good, but they really weren’t great.

This has the makings of a great group of running backs. Gurley has a great chance to get near 1,500 yards himself if he stays healthy. Only two players -- Herschel Walker and Garrison Hearst -- have surpassed that number in Georgia’s history. But think about it. Gurley already has 198 yards, so he’d have to average 118 yards in the next 11 games to reach that mark. That seems doable after what we saw Saturday night.

And the other three running backs? Well, they’re going to have to wait their turn, since Gurley will be first in line. But going on Saturday’s game and the strategy used by the Georgia coaches, they’re going to spread out the carries. Why would they not use Chubb and Michel? They were very impressive.

For this year’s team to break the 1971 mark for rushing yards by a team, it would have to average 273 rushing yards in the final 11 games. With this group, that might become the norm. The potential is there for this to be a special season as long as Georgia keeps running the ball.

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 at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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