Shanks: Gurley stirring up positive talk

sports@macon.comSeptember 10, 2013 

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Georgia tailback Todd Gurley rushes 19 yards, where he was knocked out at the 1-yard line during first-quarter action Saturday against South Carolina.

BEAU CABELL — bcabell@macon.com

There’s something about a Georgia Bulldogs football team that has a featured, star running back. Sure, they’ve had some success when there has been a committee of backs running the ball, but it certainly seems more special when there is a star in the Georgia backfield.

They’ve got one this season. Todd Gurley is a special player. As someone whispered to me in the press box Saturday in Athens, “You want some scoop? This Gurley kid is special.”

I thanked that reporter for the news flash. It’s obvious after 16 games watching Gurley that he was right on the money.

But is it too early to ask where Gurley might rank in Georgia’s history of running backs? You know, that, “Who is the best since Herschel Walker” discussion that is always fun for Georgia fans to debate.

For me, that answer has always been easy -- at least up to now. Garrison Hearst has been the best since ol’ No. 34. Hearst is right behind Walker in career rushing yards with 3,232 (Walker had 5,259 yards) and had the fourth-best season as a running back with 1,594 yards in 1992, behind Walker’s three years in Athens.

But Gurley might be on pace to be in the same neighborhood really soon.

Gurley is currently seventh in the nation in rushing yards with 286. Of course, you could make the argument that none of the six players in front of Gurley had to play the caliber teams of a Clemson or a South Carolina. He’s second in the SEC in rushing, behind Arkansas’ Alex Collins, who has run for 303 yards against Louisiana-Lafayette and Samford.

Gurley is on pace for 1,716 yards for the regular season, which would be almost 600 more yards than he ran for in the 12 regular-season games last year and a bit more than 300 more than he ran in the entire 2012 season.

That total of 1,716 yards would put him in Walker’s territory. The former Johnson County star ran for 1,616 yards as a freshman, then 1,891 yards as a sophomore and then 1,752 yards as a junior. Walker posted those numbers in 12 games for each season.

Gurley just needs to stay healthy, and he could be right in the middle of those stats. He had 1,385 rushing yards last year as a freshman, which was the third-most in a season since Walker put up his historic numbers. Even if Gurley simply has 1,000 yards this season and 1,000 more next year, he’ll be above Hearst’s career numbers and right behind Walker.

So in other words, Gurley might not be another Herschel Walker, but he’s certainly not another Caleb King or Washaun Ealey, either.

Georgia ran Gurley only 12 times against Clemson. He was banged up a bit, and that contributed to fewer carries. But against South Carolina, Gurley had 30 carries. He might not do that against North Texas next week, but you can bet when LSU comes to Athens in a few weeks that Gurley will be called upon a lot once again.

Head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo probably realize by now that Gurley needs to carry the ball for this Georgia team to be successful. And, sure, Gurley might wear down a bit as the season goes along, but he’s young and should be able to handle 20-25 carries a game. Having Keith Marshall around gives the coaches another option, but if Gurley continues to show he’s this special, they’ll want him to have that heavy workload.

Walker averaged 25 carries per game during his freshman season in 1980 and 35 per game as a sophomore the next season, a mark that is an SEC record. It shows you that if a special back is in your backfield, he’s going to get a ton of work and a number of chances to help a team win.

Is Gurley a Heisman Trophy candidate? You bet he is. Gurley is already getting praise from national analysts that he’s the best running back in the country. And if he continues this pace, he’ll also go down as one of the best to ever run between the hedges in Athens.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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