Yesterday kicked off what will be an action-packed series of previews here at Dawg Sports, as Editor Emeritus T. Kyle King stopped by to preview the game he wrote the book on. Today we shift gears and look at the first of several position groups we'll be previewing, the Bulldog running backs.
Gurshall Is Dead! Long Live Gurshall!
Todd Gurley rushed for 1385 yards as a true freshman in 2012. Keith Marshall kicked in 759 of his own, and they're both back a year older, wiser, and more battle-hardened. Marshall has put on some size since last year, which should help with his inside the tackle box carries. Would you kindly refrain from calling them Gurshall, please? Thanks.
When you have two sophomore tailbacks who combined to rush for more than 2100 yards as freshmen, and who each averaged better than 6 yards per carry, you have every right to feel sort of lucky. That's the vibe you get from Mark Richt when he discusses his two-headed tailback monster. As he pointed out this summer, it's amazing what a difference a trip around the sun can make:
"To consider where we were a year ago, and to not really be sure what type of a running attack we would have . . .for those guys to rush for over 2000 yards and I don't know how many touchdowns was just more than we really could have dreamed of." Mark Richt, June 4, 2013 at the Georgia Pigskin Preview
Truly, Georgia has as much top end depth at the tailback position as anyone in the SEC. Mark Richt, Bryan McClendon, and the rest of the Bulldog staff deserve credit for that. It's hard to get bluechip tailbacks to come in with the expectation that they'll share carries. A lot of credit also should go to Will Friend and his offensive linemen, who opened a lot of holes in 2012 (and will get the preview treatment here in a few days).
The Key Number
86.4%. That's the percentage of Georgia's 2642 rushing yards from 2012 that return this season.Boo Malcome's 272 yards represent the lion's share of what was lost, which seems pretty inconsequential. Malcome's transfer, however, does mean that if something of an injurious nature were to happen to one of our prize ballcarriers, there's not a lot of proven experience behind them. More on that in a moment.
The Best Case Scenario
With Michael Bennett back, Malcolm Mitchell playing wide receiver full time, and a pair of tight ends who could each be among the top 5 in the conference at the position, Georgia's offense might be pretty good without Gurley and Marshall. But the accumulation of other weapons makes things easier on them. I do not think it is out of the question for the tailback tandem to rush for a combined 2600 yards.
The Worst Case Scenario
On the other hand, Gurley and Marshall aren't sneaking up on anyone this season. Teams will almost certainly be willing to sell out to stop the run against those two. Because of that it's entirely possible that their production could actually decrease this season. That being said, such a strategy would be music to Mike Bobo's large, play-action loving ears. The tradeoff for bringing a safety up to stop the run is giving Malcolm Mitchell single coverage on the outside. That's not a bad deal for us. So, yeah, even the bad news here is pretty darned good.
The Future: Bright Enough, But Hopefully Still The Future.
Behind Marshall and Gurley are scores of freshmen and walk-ons (or former walk-ons). Coming out of spring practice freshman J.J. Green and junior walk-on Kyle Karempelis stood third and fourth on the depth chart. Neither is over 185 pounds, and only Karempelis has seen any game action (and that was pretty limited) freshmen A.J. Turman and Brendan Douglas are also joining the rotation. Both are bruising runners, Turman standing 6'1 and going about 200 pounds, while Douglas is a compact 5'11, 202 lb. Turman was a top 10 back nationally in the class of 2013 with prototype size and good vision. Turman looks a lot like the "one cut and go" tailbacks of yore, the Tim Worleys and Lars Tates who made Vince Dooley's attack go (albeit very, very slowly at times).
Douglas was committed to Georgia Tech until right before Signing Day and was unknown out of Aquinas High in Augusta. At least he was unknown to those who didn't see him run a 4.47 40 yard dash at the Mark Richt Camp or, like me, saw him run over, around and through Macon's First Presbyterian Vikings for 300 yards.
None of those guys is Marshall or Gurley. That's a simple fact that should give Bulldog fans a little pause. With the wear and tear that goes along with playing tailback in the SEC, the Bulldogs were pretty lucky that neither freshman tailback missed significant time in 2012. Will that luck hold out in 2013? We can only hope so. Because the vaunted Georgia offense looks a lot different (and much less fearsome) without them.
A Full Batch Of Fullbacks
While the dynamic duo of tailbacks will certainly steal the headlines, it's worth noting that Georgia has a pair of sophomores returning at fullback, too. 6'2, 260 pounder Quayvon Hicks to bust skulls inside. Former walk-on Merritt Hall (5'11, 226)started at the position before suffering some injuries. And Douglas, despite being recruited as a tailback, is big and physical enough to play some snaps here if needed. Last season was the only season of the Richt era when I remember the Georgia offense producing without a clear #1 at the fullback slot.
Certainly the departed Zander Ogletree played a big role, but he was never able to distance himself from Hicks and Hall. Part of that may have been the evolution of the Bulldog offense, which even used tight end Artie Lynch occasionally in a bit of an H-Back role. It will be interesting to see who emerges at fullback in 2013, and whether the Bobo-fense really calls for anyone to emerge at all.
Hall is your starter right now, but Hicks will almost certainly see significant time. The Pierce County product is really built for the position, and will probably be the guy in goal line situations.
Mark Richt's team is about as secure in the backfield as it has been in recent memory. That's good, because an awful lot of folks are counting on the Red and Black offense to take up slack for the young defense. That worries me a little, because it sounds like the mirror image of last year's expectations for the heralded Bulldog defense. But all things being equal, it's better to have reason for excitement than reason for dread, right?
Until later . . .