UGA midseason report card: RBs

Editor’s note: Georgia’s football season is halfway over and the Bulldogs will take this weekend off before resuming SEC play next Saturday at Kentucky. We’ll take a look at a different position group each day this week and evaluate how it performed in the first half of the season in our DawgNation midseason report cards.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Perhaps the biggest feel-good story in Georgia’s first six games was the performance by the Bulldogs’ new 1-2 punch at tailback from freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

Even after a disappointing night for Georgia’s offense last Saturday against South Carolina, Gurley (81 carries for 575 yards, nine TDs) and Marshall (64-465, 5 TDs) still sit fourth and 10th, respectively, among the SEC’s rushing leaders. Considering that the position was one of Georgia’s greatest uncertainties last season and one of its biggest question marks entering the fall, that’s a heck of a place to be.

Let’s examine the first half for Georgia’s running backs:


STARTERS (stats): TB Todd Gurley (81 carries, 575 yards, 9 TDs), FB Merritt Hall (2-10). Gurley immediately established himself as Georgia’s top rushing option with 100 yards in the opener against Buffalo. He has topped the 100-yard mark in four of the first six games.

RESERVES (stats): TB Keith Marshall (64-465, 5 TDs), TB Ken Malcome (31-197, 2 TDs), TB/FB Richard Samuel (8-44), TB Brandon Harton (7-15), FB Quayvon Hicks (no carries). Marshall emerged as the other end of Georgia’s 1-2 rushing punch by showing breakaway speed on a handful of long touchdown runs -- including two of 70-plus against Tennessee. Malcome has also run well in limited opportunities, most recently on Georgia’s final drive against South Carolina.

HIGHLIGHT: Gurley and Marshall rushed for more than 100 yards apiece against both Florida Atlantic and Tennessee, while combining to score four touchdowns against Vanderbilt in the game between those two performances. In that three-game stretch, Marshall and Gurley combined for 721 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.

LOWLIGHT: The running backs share only a small portion of the blame for Georgia’s inability to run the ball against South Carolina, but they were unproductive nonetheless. Gurley ran for a season-low 39 yards and Marshall had 37 in the Bulldogs’ blowout loss to the Gamecocks.

OVERALL EVALUATION: In the wake of Isaiah Crowell’s offseason dismissal and discipline issues with other Bulldogs running backs over the past year, Gurley and Marshall have been a breath of fresh air for those in Georgia’s football building and for the program’s followers.

The freshmen have added the ability to grind out tough runs and break away for long touchdowns that didn’t exist with any consistency in 2011. They still miss assignments here and there as freshman are prone to do, but Gurley and Marshall exceeded all reasonable expectations with the way they performed in the first half of the season.

It will be interesting to watch how Malcome is used down the stretch. He has run like a battering ram in the second half of a couple of games and that ability to attack tiring defenses might be useful in some of Georgia’s later games. The sophomore’s tough running on Georgia’s final drive is essentially all that saved the Bulldogs from getting shut out at South Carolina.