The much-anticipated battle of the tailbacks did not unfold quite as anyone expected Saturday.
All week, the matchup of Georgia’s Todd Gurley and LSU’s Jeremy Hill — two of the SEC’s top three tailbacks, averaging 125.7 and 117 yards per game, respectively — had been the game’s second-most-talked-about storyline. (You might have heard a thing or two about the other, the matchup of ex-roommates at quarterback.) By the start of Saturday’s second half, the tale of the tailbacks was almost forgotten in a game that offered so much else, including, ultimately, a 44-41 Georgia victory.
Gurley’s game got off to a strong start with key plays on each of Georgia’s two touchdown drives in the first quarter. But he left the game for good in the second quarter with a sprained left ankle and watched the second half from the sideline with a walking boot on his foot. He finished with 73 yards rushing on eight carries.
“Depth throughout the whole team is important because you never know when someone is going to go down,” Georgia’s No. 2 tailback, Keith Marshall, who like Gurley was a member of the Bulldogs’ 2012 signing class, said after the game. “They told me at halftime (that Gurley was out).”
And Marshall’s reaction?
“Just keep playing football. Just keep playing football.”
Marshall, who ran for only 117 yards in Georgia’s first three games this season after gaining 759 in 14 games last season, had 70 yards on nine carries by halftime Saturday. He found yards harder to come by in the second half, finishing with 96 on 20 carries.
Despite Gurley’s injury, Georgia easily outdistanced LSU in the running game — a credit, quarterback Aaron Murray and others emphasized, to the play of the offensive line. Marshall and Gurley combined for 169 rushing yards. And significantly, Georgia also got a key 18-yard late-game run from freshman tailback J.J. Green.
“Obviously, we’d have loved to have had Todd out there. He’s an unbelievable back,” Murray said. “But we’ve got a great group of backs behind him. Keith had some huge gains for us. And the offensive line did such a great job of opening up running lanes for all of our backs.”
LSU’s Hill, meanwhile, finished with 86 yards rushing, well below his season’s average, on 21 carries. As a team, Georgia ran for 196 yards to LSU’s 77, with the Tigers’ total below Hill’s because of yardage lost on sacks.
Hill was stymied by Georgia’s defense in the first half — held to 24 yards on 10 carries as the Bulldogs limited LSU as a team to 13 net rushing yards on 15 attempts in the half.
One week earlier, Hill ran for 184 yards against Auburn.