Most college football bowl games focus on the offenses involved. This is no different with the Capital One Bowl pitting the Nebraska Cornhuskers against the Georgia Bulldogs. The difference is that the offensive focus, especially this year, has been geared toward the passing game. With this bowl game, it’s the competing running attacks that deserve the most attention.
The Cornhuskers enter this game with a three-man running attack that can also function very well without one of those men. Rex Burkhead has had injury issues this season that saw him miss around half of the season in total. When he was in, he was a focal point of the Cornhuskers running attack. The best evidence of that was in the Cornhuskers’ regular season finale when Burkhead was on the field for the first time in around a month. Burkhead ended up scoring the game-winning touchdown and helped the Cornhuskers clinch the Big Ten Legends Division.
Burkhead’s absence at different points of the season meant that the other two components of the running attack, running back Ameer Abdullah and quarterback Taylor Martinez, had to step up their game. It turned out that it wasn’t hard for either man to do this and both ended up with great seasons mainly because they were getting the ball more than they would have if Burkhead had been in the lineup. Martinez & Abdullah combined for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground for the season, and the two had their best games of the season when Burkhead wasn’t playing.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, will enter this bowl game with a more traditional running attack. They have two men in the backfield and work more singleback and I-formation runs than the triple-option type running the Cornhuskers tend to go with. The fun part for fans of the Dawgs is that both of their running backs not only performed very well this season, but they are both freshmen.
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall provided the Bulldogs not only with a great 1-2 tandem in their backfield this season, they also took a good amount of pressure off quarterback Aaron Murray’s shoulders. Coming into this season, it did seem like the fate and success of the Bulldogs’ offense was going to rely solely on Murray. Right away that perception changed as Gurley charged out of the gate and never looked back, rushing for at least 100 yards in eight games. Marshall provided more than adequate backup for Gurley as Marshall ran for at least 100 yards in three games while also having several solid games below a larger performance from Gurley, see the Bulldogs’ win over the Tennessee Volunteers.
The other benefit to this kind of running attack, where both men are reliable, is that it provides them with an ace in the hole if Murray’s day passing is lackluster or if they need a big play in a short yardage situation. With the Bulldogs’ attack in that situation, you could run it up the gut with either man, do a different kind of rushing play with either man, or you could do a short or screen pass to either man. While the Cornhuskers have similar options for such situations, the Bulldogs would have the ability to better surprise the opposing defense. And that is something that could come in handy during the second half if the game is close or if the Bulldogs need to make something happen on a drive while trailing.
Both teams come into this game hurt from defeats in their respective title games, but also with the motivation to put a hurting on their opponent. That hurting may not only come from the hits those on each team dish out, but from the success and repeated use of their running backs. For either team, this could be the key to victory on Tuesday.