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Georgia tailback Keith Marshall scores a touchdown against Nebraska in January's Capital One Bowl.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Last season's Southeastern Conference football championship game had several intriguing angles, including the talented tailback tandems.

Alabama boasted junior Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon, while Georgia countered with the freshman pair of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Three of the four wound up surpassing 100 rushing yards during that tantalizing showdown inside the Georgia Dome, but Marshall was nowhere close.

Marshall netted 3 yards on two carries, which provided instant motivation for his sophomore season.

"I was a little beat up by that point, and Todd was so good that game," Marshall said earlier this month. "We were trying to win, so I don't think it was any kind of knock against me, but my goal this season is to be as durable at the end of the year as I am right now."

The Bulldogs practiced in shorts for 90 minutes Saturday and will have today off before resuming preparations for Clemson on Monday.

Marshall rushed 117 times for 759 yards and eight touchdowns last season, with 6.5 yards per carry to go with Gurley's 6.2. Yet it was Gurley who was the more physical and durable of the two, rushing for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns on 222 carries.

Gurley racked up nine 100-yard games, while Marshall had three -- 164 against Tennessee, 105 against Auburn and 104 against Florida Atlantic. Marshall ran the ball just 24 times in Georgia's final four games as his body wore down, so he increased his weight from 210 to 220 pounds during the offseason.

"A lot about staying healthy is not about taking the pounding but that you've got to be able to give it out more than you take it," Bulldogs running backs coach Bryan McClendon said. "These guys come in here at 17 or 18 years old, and they've never been put in this type of situation. Keith and I have spoken about that in depth, and he's doing a lot better at it.

"He's doing a lot better at squaring up his pads and making sure he's going in and out of contact the correct way."

Marshall was North Carolina's state champion in the 100-meter dash when he attended Millbrook High in Raleigh, and he displayed his speed on several occasions last season. He had a 52-yard touchdown run against Vanderbilt, 75- and 72-yard touchdowns against Tennessee and a 62-yard touchdown at Auburn.

In the Capital One Bowl victory over Nebraska, he caught three passes for 39 yards and had a 24-yard scoring reception.

"Everybody knows that if he has a crease, he's going to score," McClendon said, "but those plays are going to be few and far between, especially playing the good defenses that we'll be up against. He's got to make sure he does a good job on the 89 percent of the other runs that are not going to be blocked as well, and that's what we've been focusing on with him."

Said Marshall: "I think I was physical last year, but that's definitely an area I'm trying to improve. I could knock it in there, and I wasn't scared or anything, but I think I can break a few more tackles this year."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.