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.