When Isaiah Crowell was kicked off the team back in the summer, there was a large segment of the Bulldog Nation who wondered what would become of Georgia's running game.
Even with freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall already in Athens, the fact that the two had yet to take a collegiate snap, there was plenty of reason for concern. How would they respond?
Looking back, nobody should have been worried.
With "Gurshall," the Bulldogs' running game has flourished, and as fifth-ranked Georgia looks to finish the year on a winning note heading into the upcoming SEC title game, Marshall and Gurley have been a huge reason why.
"Keith and Todd are very talented guys obviously, and they're both very mature guys. They both kind of fed off each other in a very positive way, as roommates and as friends from high school," head coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. "They had this vision, like we've talked about, of working together and playing together and maybe taking a little bit of pressure off of each other. Both of them are having supreme true freshman seasons, so it's been huge."
Their numbers are impressive indeed.
Gurley is the league's second-leading rusher with 149 carries for 973 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Marshall has rushed for 625 yards on just 93 attempts for the Bulldogs (9-1) who rank third in the SEC in rushing offense with 199.7 yards per game.
"We feel great about our season but the bigger picture is the team," Marshall said. "I think we complement each other well. It's kind of cool (to be called 'Gurshall') to be compared to the greatest ever. It's cool."
Quarterback Aaron Murray credits the pair for helping take a lot of the pressure off of his shoulders.
For example, during Saturday's game at Auburn, Georgia led 31-0 when the offense took the field with just about five minutes to go in the third.
Murray revealed what happened next.
"We were about to go on the drive. We knew we were going to run the ball, so one of the offensive linemen said 'let's get this over quick,'" Murray recalled. "I said talk to the running backs. Three plays later he takes off 62 yards."
With 27 more yards, Gurley will become the 11th Bulldog to rush for 1,000 yards in a season and the first since Knowshon Moreno in 2008.
Against Auburn, Gurley and Marshall combined for 221 yards on just 19 carries, as neither back has had to shoulder the load, something Richt said has been key to the pair's success, which has included running with strength and breaking numerous tackles along the way.
"Gurley had 11 carries and Keith had eight. That's not a lot. If there's one guy getting 20 carries every game, I think it'd be tougher on them. That's not to say that it's not tough on them," Richt said. "The thing about breaking tackles is that a lot of guys hit you. If the first guy tackles you, just one guy hits you. If you break four tackles, four guys missed the tackle. They hit you and missed the tackle, and the fifth guy hits you, so you actually get hit a little more when you're breaking tackles, but I don't mind them doing that. I think it's the fact that they've been able to help each other out, and when you add Ken (Malcome) to the mix and even Richard (Samuel) at times, it's kept them from getting too many carries where a true freshman might really get beat down."
Playing GSU before Tech completely by accident
Although there would seem to be a certain convenience to playing Georgia Southern with its option attack right before next week's game against Georgia Tech, Richt said the scheduling quirk came completely by accident.
"A lot of time it's a matter of making it fit everybody's schedule. We had the open date there, and we have to make sure it fits Georgia Southern's schedule as well, and it just ended up working out that that's where it got placed," Richt said. "I think if you're going to play that type of offense twice in a season it's probably better to do it back-to-back rather than in game four and game nine. You kind of go back and forth on a certain mentality, and if we can maintain the same mentality for two weeks in a row instead of having to go back and forth, it's probably not a bad thing, but we'll see how the results end up."
"It's fine with me," Commings said. "I'd rather play them back-to-back."
As for the notion that playing back-to-back option teams might be hindrance before the SEC title game, presumably against Alabama, Richt simply shrugged.
"We just have to worry about that when the time comes. We can't do anything other than defend who we are going to play. So that's what we're doing," Richt said. "When that's through, we'll have to change gears again certainly as far as the mentality. Some of the schemes and responsibilities will be vastly different, there's no doubt about that. If we don't focus on this we'll get embarrassed badly."
Richt said linebacker Chase Vasser is still not ready to play.
Vasser has not practiced for two weeks now since suffering what has been described in post-practice injury reports a strained left shoulder.
"Chase's situation is that he's still not coming around with the shoulder injury," Richt said. "We'll just see kind of see where it goes. He's just not healthy right now."
The Bulldogs are also taking a wait-and-see approach with right guard Chris Burnette, who missed the Auburn game while recovering from a shoulder injury of his own.
This and that
Richt said he's not going to get worked up over any BCS conversation, preferring instead to take it the proverbial one game at a time. "I don't worry about it. I don't because I can't control it. If you worry about stuff you can't control, you're really wasting your time and you're going to make yourself crazy a little bit, so I can't control it. I can only control what we do on a weekly basis." … With a win Saturday, Georgia will have won 10 games for the 20th time in school history. … The Bulldogs rank fourth nationally forcing 55 three-and-outs this season. That is an average of 5.5 per game. Florida State leads with 6.8, followed by TCU with 6.0 and Wisconsin with 5.6.