Posted: 12:00 p.m. Monday, April 22, 2013
If you heard it once last year, you heard it a million times. Georgia's freshman running back duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall got the nickname "Gurshall", and announcers couldn't help but use it over and over and over again. You see, it sounds like "Herschel"! And he was great as a freshman too! So clever!
As the season wore on, it became increasingly clear that the Gurshall title actually gave short shrift to one of the guys in it. Gurley was the clear better player of the two in 2012. He had just 0.25 fewer yards per carry despite running the ball almost twice as many times. He piled up 1,385 yards, and the only player in the conference to run for more won the Heisman Trophy. He was one of two players with more than five carries to average more than five yards per rush against Alabama last year, the other again being the Heisman guy. The only time he had single-digit carries in a game was the opener against Buffalo, but he still went for 100 yards anyway. And despite him averaging about 35 yards per return and having a touchdown through three games, the coaches still took him off of kickoff return duty because he was too valuable as a running back to risk injury there.
Marshall wasn't terrible by any stretch, but Gurley was the guy who carried the load. Marshall had double digit carries just once in the team's final eight games, and it was 11 in a blowout of Ole Miss. No, Georgia didn't have Gurshall. It had Gurley, and then it had Marshall as a backup.
Gurley stayed healthy through spring ball, and unlike his predecessor Isaiah Crowell, he appears to have his head screwed on straight. He provides stability at the running back position that the school really hasn't had since Knowshon Moreno was around. Washaun Ealey didn't last more than a year, and Crowell never truly lived up to his promise before getting himself dismissed for off the field problems. Barring any unforeseen and unfortunate injury issues, Gurley will be the anchor there for another two years before making a mint as a high draft pick in the NFL.
So what will he do for a followup? In all likelihood, the Georgia coaches will probably be hoping for less out of him this fall. They'll probably want Marshall to be able to carry a bit more of the load and get their carry counts closer. Mark Richt hasn't shied away from using one running back far more than the rest in his offenses, but he's not philosophically married to the idea of requiring one feature back like some coaches are.
One thing we do know is that he's been working on becoming a more complete player. His big two focuses in spring ball were catching passes and pass blocking. There is plenty of room for improvement in the former for sure, as he caught only 16 passes in 2012 and didn't have more than three receptions in any game. He's also been putting on more muscle without losing quickness, which is kind of frightening to think about considering what he did last year.
Putting it together, he may end up being a better player without putting up dramatically better numbers. Any Georgia fan should be willing to take that, because a reduced carry count for their backfield star means he'll be doing plenty of sitting at the end of blowout wins. And the coaches do end up asking him carry a bigger load next fall? It's hard right now to imagine that he won't be able to do it. Gurley is a Georgia warhorse, and he ain't easy to kill.