ATHENS, Ga. - Remember the "Gurshall" era at Georgia?
Freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for more than 200 rushing yards in wins last month over Florida Atlantic, Vanderbilt and Tennessee, amassing 294 yards as a tandem in the 51-44 win over the Volunteers. Since then, however, the two have combined for 76 yards in the Oct. 6 loss at South Carolina and for 70 in last weekend's escape of Kentucky.
"Other teams are focusing on the run, but that's no excuse," Marshall said this week. "We need to get back on track. We still believe we're capable, and we're still working just as hard at practice or even harder to keep pushing to get better."
Against South Carolina, the Bulldogs fell behind 21-0 in the first 10 minutes and were forced to throw more. Against Kentucky, the Wildcats stacked the box even though their secondary was full of freshmen.
"We didn't want them to get started with their run game," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "I thought our guys did a good job of winning some one-on-one battles up front and did a good job of tackling also, because they have some big, physical backs who run through arm tackles. Not allowing those guys to run the ball gave us a chance."
Kentucky's commitment to stopping the run opened opportunities for quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw for a career-best 427 yards and four touchdowns.
"We thought we could pop a run here or there, but we never popped any long ones, and we had more success in the air," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "The run game didn't do anything to hurt us last week. It kept them honest and opened up some things in the passing game."
Said Gurley: "Every game is getting bigger and bigger, so every game is getting harder and harder. As long as we get the win, that's all I care about."
Georgia is about to face a Florida defense that allows 97.3 rushing yards a game, which ranks third in the Southeastern Conference behind Alabama (58.7) and LSU (94.9). LSU averages 208.4 rushing yards a game but managed just 42 against the Gators.
The Gators held South Carolina to 36 rushing yards last week.
"The biggest difference with them between this year and last year is the depth," Bobo said. "They pretty much played four guys up front, and toward the end of games you could tell they didn't have a lot of depth. They're playing eight guys up front now, and they're playing well in the fourth quarter."
Gurley was the SEC's leading rusher at the start of this month with 107.2 yards a game, but the 6-foot-1, 218-pounder is now sixth at 88.9 yards a contest. The 5-11, 216-pound Marshall is 12th in the league with 69.7 yards per game.
Marshall said he isn't hearing the "Gurshall" nickname, which was birthed last month and evokes the legendary Herschel Walker, as much these days. This is the first rough stretch for the touted newcomers, but Georgia coaches believe they are dealing with it as well as they handled instant stardom.
"You're going to face good defenses in this league," running backs coach Bryan McClendon said. "As much as I want it and as much as they want it, it's not always going to be both of those guys rushing for 100 a pop a game. Both of those guys have taken it well, and we just need to keep sticking with those guys and keep getting better."