ATHENS – It wasn’t really a big day on the field for Georgia tailback Todd Gurley — he finished with a modest 68 yards rushing on 15 carries — but it was a big day in the history books.
The 6-foot-1, 218-pound running back became the first Bulldogs freshman to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season since Herschel Walker did it in 1980. Walker had 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns while leading Georgia to the national championship that year. With three games still to play, Gurley now has 1,041 yards and, including a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, 13 scores.
“Having Todd Gurley — and I like to throw Keith Marshall in there, too, because Keith has really had a fine true-freshman season, too — they’re definitely two important impact players on this team this year,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “You know, our run game was in question this year, with the line losing three guys that got drafted, and we’re not sure who our backs are going to be. Then these guys come in, and the line has blocked extremely well all season and we’re rushing the ball well.”
Marshall, a freshman from Raleigh, had 29 yards on seven carries Saturday as Georgia Southern sold out to stop the run Saturday. Together, Gurley and Marshall — nicknamed “Gurshall” for their combined effectiveness in comparison to Walker — have slipped passed the Hall of Famer with 1,695 yards and 19 TDs together.
Gurley was happy to break through the 1,000-yard barrier, but mostly for everybody else.
“I guess it’s what people have been waiting for, so I’ve got it now,” he said with a grin. “I’m happy about it but, like I’ve said, I still feel like I have a lot of ball to play right now and I feel like it’s not something I should be looking at. Accomplishments are something you look at when the season is over or 10 years from now. I still have a lot of ball to play.”
Marshall and Gurley came to Georgia in a pact to play together and have an impact as first-year players. Marshall was the higher-rated recruiting prospect, but said he’s nothing but happy for his roommate.
“That’s definitely a special accomplishment,” said Marshall, who has 674 yards this season. “I don’t know how many have done that before, but I know it’s big as a freshman to come in and have a 1,000-yard season.”
Knowshon Moreno had 1,334 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2007. Other than that, the closest was Rodney Hampton’s 890 yards in 1988.
“I’m just glad we got those kids,” Richt said Gurley and Marshall. “They’re good kids, and they’re great talents.”
Chris Conley feeling at home
Sophomore Chris Conley played his second game as Georgia’s first-string slot receiver on Saturday and he the transition appears to be going well.
Conley led the Bulldogs’ receivers with four catches for 76 yards and, for the second straight week, got Georgia on the scoreboard. In fact, he had two TD receptions Saturday, one for 33 yards and another for 13.
You might say he’s getting used to his new role.
“Yeah but, you know, you never want to get complacent,” said Conley, who now has 15 catches for 192 yards and 4 TDs this season. “I like to be my toughest critic and I had some opportunities that I missed today. I have a lot of things I need to fix. So going forward I know what I have to get better at and what I need to do to help this team.”
Conley didn’t start Saturday because the Bulldogs opened in a two-receiver set. But he replaced senior Marlon Brown, who was lost to a season-ending knee injury in the second half of the Ole Miss game, as the slot receiver. He also backs up Tavarres King at flanker.
Conley is now the fifth different wideout to lead the Bulldogs in receiving in a game this season.
Scoring at historic rate
The Bulldogs scored six touchdowns Saturday, which gives them a school-record 56 for a season. The old mark was 54 set in 1942 (12 games) and in 2011 (13 games).
Georgia is on pace to break the UGA records for total offense and scoring in a season as well. The Bulldogs have averaged 472.3 yards per game; the record set in 1996 was 466.8. They’ve scored 414 points with three games to go. The record for a 12-plus-game season is 450 in 2002.
“We’ve been productive all year, and that’s a credit to Coach (Mike) Bobo and his staff,” Richt said. “We’re scoring a lot of TDs instead of field goals this year. Those TDs add up quicker.”
Starting right guard Chris Burnette (left shoulder) and Richard Samuel (abdominal strain) did not dress for Saturday’s game because of injuries. It was the first game missed by Samuel, while Burnette has been out since getting hurt in the first half of the two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, redshirt freshman fullback Merritt Hall was helped off the field just nine minutes into the game, and trainers were attending to the same ankle that has kept him out since the first play of the Florida game. Hall came back and played in the third quarter, but Richt said he “didn’t like the way he was hobbling around” after the game.
Senior free safety Bacarri Rambo twice had to leave the game with an ankle issue but returned each time..
Etc. . . .
Georgia’s 59-second scoring drive to end the first half was its seventh this season of one minute or less. … Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree led Georgia with 12 tackles. Linebacker Christian Robinson added nine, and Garrison Smith led Georgia’s down linemen with seven. … Once again, walk-on Parker Welch was the first quarterback in when Murray left the game in the fourth quarter. He and Justin Scott-Wesley combined for their first touchdown throw and catch of their careers. … Among the former players at Saturday’s game was world-renowned professional wrestler Bill Goldberg, who was an All-SEC nose guard for the Bulldogs from 1986-89.