Published Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 8:13 pm / Updated at 8:17 pm
FOOTBALL
Georgia freshmen form formidable backfield duo

CELEBRATION, Fla. — Gurshall. Rhymes with Herschel. Walker, that is, the Georgia running back who ran for 1,616 yards as a freshman Bulldog in 1980 — winning the national title — 1,891 as a sophomore and 1,752 in his Heisman Trophy-winning junior campaign. No. 34 out of the I-formation, taking a toss pitch.

Thirty years later, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are Gurshall. Both are highly touted freshmen from the eastern part of North Carolina. They’re roommates, too. Gurley — tall, lean, simmering — wears No. 3. Marshall — shorter, stockier, faster — wears No. 4.

And they’ve done OK for themselves this year.

They combined for 1,983 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. Each averages more yards per carry than Herschel did in any of his three years. They’ve spawned some “Gurshall” T-shirts — Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray even wore one — and they make photographers after the game strain to capture them in the same picture, with Gurley (No. 3) preferably on the left side of the frame.

“Just another name fans wanna give ya,” said Gurley, shrugging it off. He’s been there, answered this.

“It’s cool or whatever, because it’s Herschel Walker,” said Marshall, only slightly more upbeat. Marshall isn’t sure what to think of the name, and for the simplest of reasons: “It’s two of us and one of him.”

What makes for a lesser reputation equals a tougher challenge for Georgia’s opponents. When 6-foot-1, 218-pound Gurley (1,260 yards) gets tired, here comes the 5-foot-11, 202-pound Marshall (723). And when Gurley fuels back up, here he comes again. Neither wastes much time running laterally, either.

“They’re just going downhill,” said Nebraska defensive end Jason Ankrah, who compared both to Penn State’s Zach Zwinak. “They don’t really look to finesse many people. They see the hole, they’re going to go to it. If they beat you to it, they beat you to it. Those are two awesome backs, and it’s going to be one heck of a challenge.”

That’s basically how Gurley and Marshall wanted it before they ever arrived in Athens. They became friends during the recruiting process, whittled down their choices to Clemson and Georgia, and picked the Bulldogs roughly one month apart.

“I didn’t have anybody in my area getting recruited, and he was the same,” Marshall said. “So we talked about going to the same schools. He’s cool. We chill.”

Said Georgia coach Mark Richt: “They had a vision.”

And once Richt booted starter Isaiah Crowell from the team after Crowell’s gun arrest last summer, the way was clear for Gurshall to become a crucial part of the Bulldogs’ success. Georgia coaches tried, early, to shield them from some of the hype and exposure.

A series of relatively manageable games to start the year was put on the shoulders of Murray. Slowly, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo gave Gurley and Marshall more carries, until Gurley became the workhorse — with Marshall as his counterpunch — by the Florida game.

“You never know how any freshman’s going to respond,” Bobo said. “The media now. The time football demands on you. And then the school demands. It’s tough. You don’t know how they’re going to react. But those two have been able to come in and respond well to everything. It’s a credit to their maturity.”

And whatever Gurshall didn’t know about a given play, Murray — a three-year starter — was there to explain it.

“He don’t really get on us too bad,” Marshall said.

Gurley called it a “fun year.” Marshall said he liked watching Gurley plow over defenders. He didn’t love seeing so few carries in the SEC Championship against Alabama — Gurley got 23, and Marshall just three — but Bobo said there would be a bigger plan for Marshall in the Capital One Bowl.

Expect Gurshall to be back in full, fine form. It’s two dudes for one Herschel Walker, yes. But Marshall said that’s the reality of the position today.

“It takes two tailbacks to get the job done — especially in the SEC,” Marshall said.

Contact the writer:

402-202-9766, sam.mckewon@owh.com, twitter.com/swmckewonOWH

Contact the writer: Sam McKewon

sam.mckewon@owh.com    |   402-219-3790    |  

Sam McKewon covers Nebraska football for The World-Herald. Got a tip, question or rant? Good. Email him. Follow him on Twitter. Call him.

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