Since the early departure of Knowshon Moreno after the 2008 season, the Georgia Bulldogs backfield has been filled with underachievers and misfits—that is until the arrival of stud running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.
Names like Caleb King, Washaun Ealey and Isaiah Crowell would follow Moreno, but their careers will be remembered more for off-field issues than on-field success. Crowell did have 850 yards his freshman season and was named AP SEC Freshman of the Year.
However, Crowell never played another down for the Bulldogs after his freshman year.
All of those backs were talented, but all three seemed to find trouble. King had the least amount of troubles while at UGA, but academic issues ended his career. However, he threw away his NFL career after beating up a Minnesota Vikings fan at a party.
Perhaps the greatest example of how bad it was from 2009-11 for the Bulldogs’ running back unit was when Georgia hosted New Mexico State on November 5, 2011.
Prior to the home game against the Aggies, Georgia running backs Crowell, Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome were all suspended for the Bulldogs game.
Yes, three running backs on the same football team were all suspended for one game. The Bulldogs had to turn to a walk-on in Brandon Harton.
Fast forward to 2013 and the Georgia Bulldogs have their best stable of running backs, and 2014 will be even better.
The transformation did not take place when the Bulldogs got a prized Peach State recruit. No, the revival of the Georgia Bulldogs running game is the result of a decision of two good friends from the Tar Heel State.
Marshall and Gurley made a decision to come to Georgia. As a result, both could end up first-round draft picks in the NFL when their Bulldog careers are over.
The duo would take the college football world by storm as the two runners combined for 2,144 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns in 2012 as true freshmen.
During the recruiting process, Marshall was the big-name recruit, and Gurley was the secondary get. In fact, many thought Gurley would move to safety.
Now those roles have reversed. Gurley is getting the main spotlight, and Marshall is considered the complimentary back.
However, the pundits were wrong on the recruiting trail, and they are wrong now. Marshall could start for any team in the SEC including Alabama and LSU.
In other words, Georgia has gone from famine to feast and shows no signs of slowing down.
How good is it for the Bulldogs? Let’s start with Gurley. I said coming into the 2013 season that Gurley would be the top running back in college football as a sophomore. I tweeted out prior to the South Carolina game that I am convinced he will be the top running back of the past decade inside the SEC.
What makes Gurley so special? To start with, he is a genetic freak. At 6’1″ and 232 pounds, he is built like a Greek god and punishes would-be tacklers.
Gurley is a punishing running back in every sense of the word. If there is a player with a better stiff-arm in recent memory, I do not know who he is.
Moreover, he has track speed as well. He won the 110-meter high hurdles in 13.88 seconds at the 2011 USA Youth Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
The truth is, when you’re talking about Gurley, there really is not a weakness in his game. He is a great blocker and has very good hands and amazing vision.
In reality, the two backs formerly known as “Gurshall” share a lot of the same qualities with one another. Marshall has added muscle in the offseason and is now 5’11” and 219 pounds, and as he showed in his touchdown run against South Carolina, he has learned how to drag defenders with him.
He doesn’t have the brute strength that Gurley does but is one juke away from embarrassing any defender in college football. His elusiveness in the open field is second to none. Marshall is also a great blocker and possesses elite hands and outstanding vision.
Yes, talent sets this duo apart. However, there is something else. Something UGA missed for several seasons.
Both players get it done in the classroom. Marshall could walk away from sports tomorrow and still be highly successful. He graduated high school with a 4.29 GPA and has not slowed down at UGA. Don’t be surprised if after his NFL career he is Dr. Marshall or even President Marshall.
They both have a great sense of family pride. The reason they will never embarrass the name on the front of the jersey is because of the pride they have in the name on the back of their jerseys. Both players honor their parents, not just with their play on the field, but in their actions off the field as well.
Both players have a work ethic that coaches dream of and a team-first attitude. That’s something that could not be said about Crowell, Ealey or King.
But for this dynamic duo, it has never been about anyone prior to their arrival. It is about two elite running backs who wake up every morning with a purpose and go to sleep every night better, knowing they are one step closer to that purpose being a reality.