ATHENS – Herschel was in the house on Saturday, but “Gurshall” stole the show.
“Gurshall” is the nickname Georgia fans have bestowed upon freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, whose number 3 and 4 jerseys are reminiscent of Herschel Walker’s famous and now-retired number 34. With Walker on the sideline for part of Saturday’s game against Tennessee, the duo combined on a Herschel-like performance – 294 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns — as the Bulldogs won an offensive shootout at Sanford Stadium, 51-44 over Tennessee.
“Yeah, we’ve seen [the ‘Gurshall’ references],” said Marshall, who now has 408 yards and 5 touchdowns as a Bulldog. “It’s a cool little nickname. You’re talking about the greatest ever, so I’m not going to say we’re all that. But it’s cool to see.”
Gurley was the workhorse and Marshall was racehorse in Saturday’s scenario. Marshall had touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards and finished with 164 yards on 10 carries. Gurley carried the ball a career-high 24 times for 130 yards and 3 TDs. Gurley also had a 51-yard scoring run and has now scored 10 touchdowns in five games.
“Honestly, with the backs we have in Todd and Keith, we know if we just execute and finish our blocks, they’re can make big runs,” Georgia junior offensive lineman Chris Burnette said. “That’s really all we focus on.”
Georgia, which came in leading the SEC in total offense and scoring, piled up 560 yards, including 282 on the ground. The Bulldogs have now scored 40 or more points in five straight games for the first time in school history.
The victory was No. 5 Georgia’s third in a row over Tennessee and represented its 15th straight regular-season victory going back to last year. The Bulldogs (5-0, 3-0) are off to their first 5-0 start since 2006. They play No. 6 South Carolina in Columbia next Saturday.
“Well, that was fun,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who recorded his eighth career victory over the Vols. “I’m sure CBS enjoyed that. The ratings should be good. I’m just glad we won.”
It was the proverbial “barn-burner.” Tennessee also had a huge offensive night, piling up 478 total yards on 85 plays. Quarterback Tyler Bray had 281 yards and 2 touchdowns but was undone by three interceptions. Atlanta native Rajion Neal also had 104 yards for the Vols.
Though Georgia twice built 14-point leads in the second half, the game remained in doubt until the very last seconds of the game. Cornerback Sanders Commings recorded his second interception of the game with 7 seconds remaining when Bray’s desperation deep pass bounced of the hands of receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. With the Vols out of timeouts, only then was Georgia about to assume victory formation.
Though Georgia’s renowned defense found itself on its heels for much of the game’s final three quarters, the Bulldogs made the plays when they had to. The Vols’ last three possessions of the night ended with two interceptions and a fumble.
Georgia’s cause was helped considerably by the return of two defensive players who had been suspended for the first four games. Linebacker Alec Ogletree with 14 tackles and three pass break-ups.
Free safety Bacarri Rambo was second with 9.
“I feel fine about the way we played on defense,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I understand the issues we had today… . The newness of the positions some guys were playing after four games off hurt us. Moving forward we should become a little more consistent with our play.”
Unable to slow down Tennessee for most of the last three quarters, the Bulldogs finally got stops on the Vols’ last three possessions of the game. None was bigger than the very last one as cornerback Sanders Commings snagged his second interception of the night with seven seconds remaining on the night. At that point Tennessee had taken over at its own 35 with a chance to tie or win.
On Tennessee’s possession before that, linebacker Jordan Jenkins pressured Bray and forced a fumble, which John Jenkins recovered at the Georgia 31. But the Bulldogs were unable to get a first down on offense to put the game away.
“Those guys, they just have so many playmakers on offense,” said Commings. “Those guys are pretty good. This was a learning experience. We just need to go back and correct the mistakes we made. If we do that we’ll be back to holding teams to three points.”
The 95 highest combined fourth highest in SEC history for a non-overtime game.
Despite the close call against an unranked team, the Bulldogs claim they will head to Columbia next week a confident team.
“Besides the turnovers, we were doing a great job offensively,” said quarterback Aaron Murray, who had 278 yards passing and 2 TDs. “We scored three times in a row in the second half. If we take care of the ball we’ll be fine.”
The first half brought back memories of one of Georgia’s greatest collapses of modern era. The Bulldogs leapt ahead 27-10 early in the second quarter only to need a 50-yard field goal from Marshall Morgan at the halftime buzzer to forge a 30-30 tie.
“I’ve always believed this team had some fight in them, we just had to go out and prove it,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. “We got hit by a freight train early in the game, but we were able to fight back and get back into it.”
In 2006, the Bulldogs shot out to a 24-7 lead in the second quarter. But turnovers and unsound special teams play let the Vols back in it at the end of the half and Tennessee rolled in the second on the way to a 51-33 victory.
Similarly, Georgia seemed comfortably in control early in the second quarter. Gurley had just scored on a spectacular 51-yard run with 11:48 left until halftime when Morgan missed the point-after attempt. It seemed insignificant at the time, but very little went right for the Bulldogs after that.
Georgia’s defense would get the ball back for its offense. But Malcolm Mitchell’s poor decision to let the ensuing punt go resulted in the ball being downed at the Bulldogs’ 1.
Georgia would spend the rest of the quarter deep in its own territory. The Bulldogs had to punt the ball away from their own 9 and Tennessee took over at midfield. On third-and-8 at the Georgia 20, Bray hit Justin Hunter on slant for 18 yards down to the Bulldogs’ 2. Two plays later, Gainesville native A.J. Johnson, who normally plays linebacker, ran it in from a yard out. Just like that, Georgia’s lead was shrunk to 27-17 with 4:53 still left in the first half.
It quickly got worse. On Georgia’s ensuing possession, Tennessee linebacker Herman Lathers busted through right guard untouched on a blitz and sacked Murray, who fumbled on the play. Tennessee’s Johnson recovered at the Bulldogs’ 8-yard line.
The Vols scored three plays later when Bray hit Zach Rogers over the middle for a four-yard touchdown on third down. They, too, missed the point-after, but suddenly Tennessee had close to 27-23 with 2:55 left in the second quarter.
Disaster stuck Georgia again as Gurley stepped out of bounds at the 1 trying to field the ensuing kickoff. The Bulldogs seemed to have averted catastrophe when they converted on third down to get the ball out to the 18. But Murray and Marshall mishandled a handoff exchange on first down Tennessee lineman Darrington Sentimore recovered at the Georgia 18.
Tennessee cashed in the turnover again as Bray hit wide open running back Rajion Neal – another Georgia native – in the left flat for a touchdown. That gave the Vols a 30-27 lead with 42 seconds remaining in the half.
Georgia finally did something positive. The Bulldogs managed to drive 33 yards in 37 seconds to set up a 50-yard field goal try for Morgan. He made it at the halftime buzzer, and the teams adjourned to the locker rooms in a hard-to-believe 30-30 tie.
COMPLETE COVERAGE OF GEORGIA-TENNESSEE GAME: