TAKING QUITE THE BITE
The top five seasons for a Georgia true freshman tailback:
1. Herschel Walker // 1,616 // 1980
2. Todd Gurley // // 973 // // 2012
3. Rodney Hampton // 890 // // 1987
4. Thomas Brown // 875 // // 2004
5. Isaiah Crowell // // 850 // // 2011
ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia freshman Todd Gurley has rushed for more yards this season than any tailback in the Southeastern Conference.
If only he could catch that Johnny Football.
"I doubt that happens," Gurley said this week. "He's a good one, man."
Gurley has compiled 973 yards and 11 touchdowns on 149 carries and is topped only by Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has 1,014 yards and 15 scores on 156 rushes. Each is averaging 6.5 yards a carry through 10 games, but Georgia's 6-foot-1, 218-pounder may be selling himself short in the SEC rushing chase.
After all, the Bulldogs have clinched an extra game by playing for the SEC championship, while the Aggies would need Alabama to lose to Auburn and LSU to lose to Ole Miss or Arkansas to qualify for the title game.
Regardless of who wins the league's rushing crown in this two-horse race, Manziel and Gurley have profoundly impacted the SEC. Gurley has surpassed the 850 yards gained last season by Georgia's Isaiah Crowell, who was the SEC freshman of the year but was dismissed from the program this past summer following an arrest on felony weapons charges.
Gurley is on the verge of becoming the only Georgia true freshman to rush for 1,000 yards other than the legendary Herschel Walker, who had 1,616 in 1980.
"The guy is definitely a talented kid and is physically gifted," Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, "and I've said all year that the way he works and the way he approaches every week is a tribute to his success. He's definitely had a big, big impact on our offense because of the yards he is getting, but he just brings a physical toughness.
"Those linemen like to see a guy break into the second level and run over a guy. It gets them excited in a way you can't do when you're completing a pass."
Gurley has a run of at least 29 yards in seven games, including a 49-yarder in last week's 38-0 romp at Auburn, and has at least one double-digit run in every contest. His freshman running mate, Keith Marshall, has runs of 75, 62 and 52 yards this season and has compiled 625 yards and six touchdowns on 93 carries.
The 5-11, 216-pound Marshall leads the SEC with 6.7 yards a carry and has three 100-yard games this season to complement Gurley's seven.
"The best thing about those guys is that they've seen what they've done and what they could do, and that's what everybody is working towards," running backs coach Bryan McClendon said. "Those guys have had an exceptional year to this point."
Said Gurley: "It's working out pretty good, and it's a whole lot better than a lot of people thought it would."
The two freshmen have combined for 1,598 yards and zero missed practices, and they're as fresh entering this week's game against Georgia Southern as they were in the opener against Buffalo. Gurley had 27 carries against Florida and 24 against Tennessee, but he hasn't had more than 18 carries in any other game.
Marshall hasn't had more than 12 carries in any game, and the two combined for 221 yards last Saturday on only 19 rushes.
"I'm not running the ball as much or taking as much of a beating as I was in high school," Marshall said.
Gurley and Marshall briefly had a rough patch last month, combining for 76 yards in the loss at South Carolina and 70 in the escape at Kentucky. Marshall was not a factor in wins over Florida and Ole Miss, but the two each went over 100 yards last Saturday, which was the third time this season that's happened.
"Keith and Todd are very talented guys, obviously, and they're both very mature guys," head coach Mark Richt said. "They both kind of feed off each other in a very positive way, as roommates and as friends from high school. They had this vision of working together and playing together and maybe taking a little bit of pressure off of each other. Both of them are having supreme true freshman seasons, so it's been huge.
"It's been a big part of our ability to run the ball the way that we've run it, and I think we're only going to get better at it. We don't have a senior lineman in the bunch."
Odds and ends
Bulldogs junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones was named Thursday as one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given annually to the nation's top defensive player. ... Another junior linebacker, Chase Vasser, will undergo surgery on his left shoulder Tuesday and will miss the rest of the season. ... Georgia's win at Auburn was the 100th SEC game for Richt, who has a 69-31 league mark. ... Freshman safety Josh Harvey-Clemons has practiced this week at outside linebacker.