ATHENS, Ga. — The T-shirt made by Aaron Murray’s mother and worn by the Georgia quarterback earlier this month declared: “Keep Calm, We’ve Got Gurshall.”
Freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were certainly all the rage, but haven’t done much since the calendar turned to October to conjure up Herschel Walker, the legendary Georgia running back whose first name spawned the duo’s nickname.
“I think we’re still capable of doing big things and I think we’ll get back to doing that,” Marshall said.
After rushing for 100 or more yards in four of the first five games with nine touchdowns, Gurley had 39 and 47 the past two games while averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
Marshall rushed for 350 yards and five touchdowns in the three games before the 35-7 loss Oct. 6 at South Carolina. He rushed for a combined 60 yards without a score against the Gamecocks and Kentucky and averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
Georgia and Gurley went from leading the SEC in rushing to No. 6 as a team and individually heading into Saturday’s game against Florida in Jacksonville.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be that good every week,” Marshall said. “This is SEC football. I think teams are starting to have to respect the run a little bit more than they probably did before the season because nobody knew what we could do. That’s no excuse.”
Georgia rushed for at least 274 yards in three consecutive games against Florida Atlantic, Vanderbilt and Tennessee, but had 115 against the Gamecocks and 77 against Kentucky.
“I think it was a little bit about execution against South Carolina and a little bit of us getting whipped and then getting down and getting away from the running game,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “The last week I think it was about what their defense was doing. (They) made a commitment to stop the run and we knew it was going to be tough. We thought we could pop a run here or there, but we just never had any long runs and had more success in the air.”
Murray threw for a career-high 427 yards and four touchdowns in the 29-24 victory.
“Shoot, if we he goes off for 400 and we get the win like we did last week, I don’t have a problem with that,” said Gurley.
Murray would prefer not to have to rely so heavily on passing. He threw a season-high 38 passes against Kentucky.
“I think we’ve made some improvements, figured out some things offensively to better ourselves in the running game because we do want to be balanced,” he said. “We want to be a very balanced team when it comes to running, passing and being able to use the play-action based off our run game.”
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips didn’t want Georgia to get started on the ground so he said he stacked the box and the Wildcats won their share of battles up front. The Bulldogs “didn’t get enough space and enough movement,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
“Those backs are very talented, big physical guys that run through arm tackles,” Phillips said. “What gave us a chance was not allowing those guys to run the ball like Georgia would like to have done. … The passing game as long as you keep them in front of you, you’ve got a chance. We let them get behind us a couple of times with big plays.”
This week Georgia goes up against a Florida defense that is third in the SEC in stopping the run (97.3 yards per game).
“You’re going to face good defenses in this league,” running backs coach Bryan McClendon said. “As much as I want it, as much as they want it, it’s not always going to be both of those guys rushing for 100 a pop a game.”
Gurley (622 yards) and Marshall (488) are already the fourth-most productive freshmen duo in Georgia history with 1,110 rushing yards. Thomas Brown and Danny Ware are No. 1 with 1,567 in 2004.
“That’s always our goal to get the running game started and get those guys rolling and feeling good,” offensive guard Chris Burnette said. “That’s definitely something we’re going to try and focus on this game. We definitely want to try to get some more runs where those guys can get the ball moving forward and not necessarily side to side.”