Quarterback Aaron Murray may be the star, but he isn’t the most crucial part of the Georgia Bulldogs‘ success so far this season. That credit goes to the 1-2 punch the Bulldogs’ possess at the running back position in the form of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
Combined with Murray’s good start to the season, the Bulldogs offense has been moving at full speed, averaging 48 points a game and starting the season 5-0. But it’s the performance of Gurley and Marshall that has become the key to victory so far this season.
This past weekend’s game against the Tennessee Volunteers provided a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
It was Gurley and Marshall that provided the big runs and scoring plays that build the Bulldogs’ big lead early in the game, while Murray’s mistakes more than the mistakes of the running backs, contributed to the Volunteer comeback that resulted in a 30-30 halftime score.
So with a tie going into the second half, Gurley and Marshall came through big while Murray broke the Volunteer defense. Marshall provided the finishing touch with his 72-yard touchdown run late in the third, the final score for the Bulldogs in the game. And that wasn’t even Marshall’s first big run of the day as his first touchdown was on a 75-yard run early in the first quarter. Gurley contributed with touchdown runs of 2, 1, and 51 yards during the Bulldogs’ 51-44 win.
Possibly the biggest benefit of having a great running game is that it takes some of the pressure off the quarterback because he knows he can hand the ball off many times if needed. That can be a big deal if you’re a quarterback who throws fifty times a game because you can’t afford to hand the ball off more than fifteen times a game. That kind of offense can come back to bite you a lot easier than a more balanced attack.
With the Bulldogs, Murray has been able to work rather freely through these first five game because Gurley and Marshall have both been reliable while producing. Take the second half this past Saturday: the game was tied because of the Volunteers’ late first half rally and while Murray had been good in the first half, he was able to get even better in the second half and part of why was because of the big gains his running backs produced. This aided Murray in guiding the Bulldogs’ down the field with ease for two touchdowns in as many possessions to start the second half, giving them a lead they wouldn’t lose.
Going forward, the responsibility will be more on Gurley than Marshall to continue to produce. It’s not like Marshall’s yards aren’t earned, and his performance on Saturday was a big one for his team, but he has passed 100 yards rushing in only two of five games so far this season while Gurley passed 100 yards in every game except when the Bulldogs beat the Missouri Tigers.
Looking at the numbers, it is almost inevitable because Gurley is going to get more touches. But Marshall getting more touches may be something that ends up going into practice with the Bulldogs as soon as this weekend.
Against the South Carolina Gamecocks, with the Bulldogs on the road, it may end up being a defensive battle as that is what the Gamecocks are good at and will want considering how good the Bulldogs’ offense has been so far. The Gamecocks possess a far better defense than anything the Bulldogs have faced yet, but if the Bulldogs’ defense can keep Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw in check, it may come down to how effective each team’s running game is with the Gamecock possessing their own running power with Marcus Lattimore.
With big games littered over the rest of their schedule, the Bulldogs will continue to look to their running game to produce right alongside Murray and the passing game. Marshall should be counted on completely, whether or not that means more rushes is yet to be seen. The number of touches has worked so well so far, they may not want to change it up and they may not need to change it up.