On signing day last year, the Georgia Bulldogs signed two running backs, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. Marshall was considered by some to be the top running back in the nation in last year’s recruiting class and Gurley was a sought after four-star recruit.
One of the Bulldogs’ freshman backs had a standout performance in his first game in Sanford Stadium, but it was not the one receiving all the hype.
Gurley entered the game on Georgia’s first drive to spell starter Ken Malcome. On his second carry of the drive, Gurley carried the ball into the end zone for a ten yard touchdown. The freshman displayed a terrific stiff arm move on the touchdown that sent a Buffalo defender reeling to the ground.
On his next touch, Gurley did something that had only been done in Georgia Bulldog history once. He lined up in the end zone as the team’s kick returner and took the ball 100 yards into the end zone. He found the hole created by his blockers, ran up the sideline and shook off multiple defenders on his way to the end zone. The only other Bulldog to have a kickoff return touchdown of that length was cornerback Brandon Boykin in 2010. Gurley also became the 43rd player in NCAA history to have a kickoff return touchdown of that length.
“That electrified the fans and it electrified me, too,” said coach Mark Richt of the return. “That was fun to watch. I was proud of him and Coach (Tony) Ball and the entire kickoff return team. You need a guy with bravery to hit it up in
there full speed, the ability to break some arm tackles and the speed to take it to the house. He looks like he will be a pretty good return man.”
Gurley would not see the endzone again until the fourth quarter, but made his presence felt with a 55 yard touchdown late in the game. He took the hand-off from quarterback Aaron Murray, bounced off his blocker, stiff-armed another defender and displayed his track speed on his way to the end-zone.
Gurley finished the day with 100 yards rushing on eight carries with two touchdowns and a 100 yard kickoff return touchdown, an explosive performance for a true freshman. He was named Co-SEC Freshman of the week on Monday morning and shares the honor with Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon.
His performance may have come as a surprise to some, but when looking at his scrimmage stats from the month of August, a successful day from Gurley is not much of a surprise. The freshman led all Bulldog running backs in yards and touchdowns last month–granted, it’s hard to take stock in scrimmage stats, but his numbers stand out.
What is most surprising is the speed he has displayed during his time as a Georgia Bulldog. He is a 6-foot-1, 218 pound running back and was expected to be a power back for the Bulldogs. Marshall is a smaller back with speed and the pair were supposed to set up a 1-2 punch at the position. However, it is possible that the media doubted Gurley’s speed when evaluating him as a prospect. He did run track in high school, after all.
On all of his runs Saturday afternoon, Gurley displayed great burst and power. He shook off multiple defenders throughout the game and seemed to turn it up a notch when he reached the next level of the defense, a feat that caught the attention of his coaches.
“He impressed as a runner and has been impressing me,” Richt said. “He’s got a knack for breaking tackles and has more speed than you would think.”
Gurley seemed like a complete back for the Bulldogs on Saturday. For a team that has had an open door at running back in recent memory, his performance was a welcome sight.
Chris Lionetti covers the Georgia Bulldogs for Rant Sports.
Follow him on Twitter at: @ChrisLionetti