No. 3 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama backfields come in 2s

That running back duo in the Southeastern Conference

championship game has been punishingly effective all season.

Pick a team – No. 3 Georgia or No. 2 Alabama – the description

fits.

Bulldogs freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall roll into

Saturday’s game with 1,858 combined yards and 22 touchdowns.

The Crimson Tide counters with Eddie Lacy, freshman T.J. Yeldon

and their collective 1,848 yards and 24 TDs.

The stats hardly settle the debate of which tailback tandem is

better.

”They’ve got two great running backs,” Tide cornerback Dee

Milliner said. ”We’ve got two, three great running backs

here.”

Well, that’s no help.

There’s not an easy answer. Both backfield combinations have

been terrific. If one player gets winded, the other goes in. One

gets a little dinged up, no problem.

Fresh legs, and no rest for the weary defenses.

It has been Alabama’s formula since Nick Saban arrived. The

two-tailback system has flourished with 2009 Heisman Trophy winner

Mark Ingram and 2011 finalist Trent Richardson, and both gained

700-plus yards as freshmen.

Yeldon has already surpassed the first-season production of

either of those two first-round NFL draft picks with 847 yards and

10 touchdowns.

Saban said the system is especially effective if the backs

present defenses with different styles, like Gurley and

Marshall.

”Todd is a little bit like our guys in a way,” he said. ”He’s

big, physical, can run inside, can run outside. He’ll make you

miss, but has power. Their second guy is a very, very good back in

all those regards, but he’s a very fast guy. There’s a change of

pace there that the players have to be aware of.”

Gurley has been the most prolific of the bunch. He is second in

the SEC with 1,138 yards while he and Lacy’s 14 touchdowns are tied

for tops among running backs. Lacy has 1,001 yards.

Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said Yeldon and Gurley

compare favorably.

”They both run really hard,” Robinson said. ”When I look at

Todd I just see lower body. You know, people try to hit him high a

lot of times, and he just keeps turning his legs and gets those

extra yards and makes a lot of people miss.

”What I’ve seen of Yeldon, he has the speed to get around the

edge. He turns up a lot on people that don’t think he’s as fast as

he really is. You’ve got to hold the edge of the defense or else

he’s gone. I think Todd has speed as well. He’s obviously looking a

little bit faster. But I would say Todd’s a little bit bigger and

more of a bruiser.”

Georgia’s backs have the clear advantage in one area: Nickname.

No. 3 Gurley and No. 4 Marshall (720 yards, eight touchdowns)) have

been dubbed ”Gurshall” after Herschel Walker, who led the

Bulldogs to the 1980 national title as a freshman. Their numbers

just happen to smush into his 34, and Walker has praised the two

freshmen.

”That’s great, to have one of the best players to ever come

through college football to say great things about me,” Gurley

said. ”But I’ve got to keep working.”

He’s not into any comparisons with the former superstar, either.

”We’re not trying to be like nobody else,” Gurley said. ”But

it’s a cool thing for the fans.”

Gurley is one touchdown away from matching Walker’s 15 as a

freshman. He and Marshall have already blown by the 1,739 yards and

14 combined touchdowns by Arkansas freshmen and future

first-rounders Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in 2005.

”Playing as a true freshman in the SEC, two guys, that’s enough

said right there – at the University of the Georgia,” Alabama

defensive end Damion Square said. ”I know they’ve got some

big-time guys there. For those guys to come in and play early and

often, that makes them great. Those guys run hard. They’re going to

make you pay when you make mistakes. Come in and tackling those

guys, they’re going to make a 2-yard gain a 7-yard gain. You’ve got

to be really fundamentally sound when you’re playing against those

guys.”

Square passed on the question of which tailback tandem is the

best.

”I play for the University of Alabama. So…” he said.

Maybe Saturday’s game will provide a more conclusive answer.