The 2012 SEC Championship is going to include a lot of defensive toughness, but the running back duo of both teams will play a huge role in who earns a bid to the national championship.
The Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs are both ranked in the Top 40 in running the football. It will likely remain the bread and butter of both teams' offense on Saturday.
But which duo would you take between Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, going up against Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon?
You really can't go wrong with either set of running backs, but the combination of Lacy and Yeldon are the group of guys you should prefer to have on your football team.
Alabama Has a Versatile 1-2 Punch Compared to Georgia
When you have yourself two running backs that are capable of getting the job done, it certainly gives the offense an advantage. But when both of those backs are completely different, it makes things even tougher on the opposing defense.
This is where Alabama has the advantage.
Lacy is a physical back at 5'10", 220 pounds. He almost never goes down on initial contact and always falls forward to pick up those extra yards. The junior has quick feet for a guy his size, but certainly isn't going to 'wow' you with his speed.
He is also capable of helping out in the passing game (29 receptions the last two years), and is a force in pass protection, which is why NFL scouts are taking a hard look.
When Yeldon is in the game, you are getting a completely different type of back. He is the smaller player at 6'1", 210 pounds and is a threat to take it the distance every time the ball is in his hands. The freshman is a home run hitter that must be accounted for on the field at all times.
You get Yeldon in the open field, and that's all she wrote for the defense.
As for Marshall of Georgia, he is very similar to Yeldon in that he is a burner. He is elusive in the open field, has terrific vision of the field and can make defenders look silly with his agility. His combination of acceleration and speed is the reason he was considered the best back of the 2012 class according to Scout.com.
The problem is that Gurley is a similar-style runner. He isn't as physical as you would like him to be and doesn't help much in pass protection—he wants the ball in the open space and wants to see how many defenders he can make miss before breaking one.
Gurley has played a role in the passing game this year, hauling in at least one pass in eight games, but his game is very similar to the guy he is splitting carries with.
Having two productive runners that are capable of helping out in different ways is the key to driving a defense nuts. Alabama has the physical guy that helps in a variety of different ways, but also has the explosive runner that can provide the big play when needed. Georgia on the other hand, has two speedy runners that are both looking to knock it out of the park.
Again, you can't go wrong with either group of guys, but I'll take the versatile unit every time.
Experience Is Key
Yeldon is a true freshman, but he has a junior in Lacy to lean on when times get tough. Unfortunately, Gurley and Marshall are both first-year players. Due to the lack of experience from both guys, it has really hurt their impact in big games against veteran defenses.
In the game against Florida, Georgia only averaged 3.5 yards per game on the ground, and only scored one touchdown. Gurley was effective with over 100 yards rushing, but Marshall had only four yards on four carries. In fact, Marshall has had seven games of not even clearing 50 rushing yards and four of those games occured when he had at least 10 carries.
Gurley has been the more consistent back of the two, although he did struggle to get rolling in the game against South Carolina (39 yards on 13 carries).
Both running backs have looked lost on the football field at times when the lights shine the brightest. Sometimes this would include missing the open running lane or failing to pick up a blocking assignment. Georgia has had an effective running game for majority of the year, but it hasn't been nearly as consistent as the Crimson Tide's.
Alabama is currently second in the SEC in rushing yards and has topped 200 yards on the ground seven times this season. Yeldon is averaging seven yards a play, while Lacy is right behind him picking up 6.4 yards a touch.
In the big-time matchup against LSU, both backs have combined for over 200 total yards. They also picked up over 150 in the game against Texas A&M and scored four touchdowns in the road game against Arkansas.
Overall, both backs on the Alabama sideline have shown us the most over a longer period of time. And because of that, you have to consider the combination of Yeldon and Lacy the more productive running back tandem that will play in the SEC Championship.
Note: All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.