There were a lot of things revealed about Georgia’s tailbacks this past Saturday beyond the fact that Todd Gurley is really good one. The Bulldogs’ hierarchy in the backfield was also divulged.
Everybody was certain that Gurley was the number one guy, but the pecking order was a little murky beyond that heading into the opener. Based on touches against Clemson, it would appear that the tailback depth chart heading into the second game looks like this: Gurley, Sony Michel, Keith Marshall, Nick Chubb and Brendan Douglas.
Running backs coach Bryan McClendon didn’t refute that. “Yeah, sure, you could say that, based on carries and how many plays those guys got,” he said.
Out of the offense, Gurley had 16 touches in the game (15 rushing attempts, 1 reception). Michel, the true freshman out of Fort Lauderdale, was next with nine on six rushes and three receptions. Chubb, a freshman from Cedartown, had just four second-half carries (but averaged 17.5 yards on them). And then there was Douglas, who did not have a rush or a reception and never lined up at tailback in the game.
Based on that, it would appear that Douglas is the odd man out. The 5-foot-11, 213-pound sophomore from Augusta was Georgia’s second-leading returner rusher (345 yards, 3 TDs) from last season. That’s after filling in for the injured Gurley and Marshall last season and J.J. Green moving to defense.
“He’s definitely still in the mix,” McClendon said. “Brendan’s still working hard and trying to do everything he can to make sure he stays there. But he’s doing a good job.”
Marshall was the second tailback in Saturday’s game — Michel came in as a flanker on a specially-desgined play with Gurley still at tailback — but appeared to be missing some of the burst that made him such big-play threat before his knee injury. Marshall had just eight yards on six carries, a 1.3-yard average. McClendon indicated Marshall just needs more time to regain his running back instincts.
Meanwhile, Michel and Chubb remain somewhat limited in their overall knowledge of the playbook. But the Bulldogs have special packages that play into each of the players’ strengths and their roles will likely expand as the season progresses.
“You never know how a guy is going to react in his first game, but I thought they did a nice job,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said of the freshmen. “I didn’t think the moment was too big for them. They kind of did what their coach asked them to do and did the little things right. That’s why they were successful and that’s what they’ve got to continue to do going into this next game. Going on the road, they’ve got to create good habits when you’re going into the environments we’re going into.”
In any case, McClendon said Georgia will remain dedicated to its philosophy of sharing the load in the backfield. That was dramatically underscored when Gurley exited the locker room at halftime with just four rushing attempts (and one rather significant 100-yard kickoff return).
“That’s a position where guys get beat down, man; they get beat down in a hurry,” McClendon said of tailbacks. “It’s the only position on the field where you get hit every single play from all kinds of different angles. You’re really not made for that. Those 300-pound linemen are. They’re getting hit every play, too, but they’re built for it. … So we try to do a good job of keeping guys healthy, keeping guys fresh. Those guys know and understand the importance of that.”
As for how carries are distributed going forward, McClendon said he has given his charges a clear criteria for how that will be determined.
“Taking advantage of their opportunities is kind of what we talk about,” he said.
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