Aside from coming away with a victory on the road against a division rival, things couldn’t have gone much worse for the Georgia Bulldogs during their 34-31 overtime win over Tennessee. Already missing several starters due to injury, Georgia lost several more in Knoxville, none more important than running back Keith Marshall.
With starter Todd Gurley nursing an ankle injury, Marshall performed well early in his first game as the Bulldogs’ feature back as he racked up 33 yards on his first five carries. His day was cut short, however, when he left the game with five minutes and 30 seconds remaining in the first quarter with a knee injury. With his exit, Georgia’s running game seemed all but devastated.
With both of the Dawgs’ stud running backs out, only two true freshmen, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas, were left to carry the load. Fortunately, they proved to be up for the task.
Statistically speaking, Green was beyond solid, accounting for 129 yards on just 17 carries, but it was his timely big plays that made the difference in this ballgame.
Six of Green’s carries resulted in first-down yardage for the Bulldogs. On five occasions, he rushed for a gain of 10 yards or more. None of his carries, however, was more important than his field-reversing 17-yard run on 3rd-and-1 during Georgia’s final scoring drive of regulation.
Ironically, that long run helped to set up a long pass to Georgia’s other true freshman running back just two plays later. With time winding down, it was Douglas who made the next big play for Aaron Murray on third down with a 32-yard catch-and-run down the Georgia sideline. Soon after that, another reserve, wide receiver Rantavious Wooten, got open in the end zone for his second touchdown of the game. That score with five seconds remaining set up the game-tying extra point and overtime.
The extent of Marshall’s injury remains unknown, but his backups showed promising signs Saturday in their first prolonged meaningful action. Perhaps more importantly, they performed their best when the game was on the line in front of a hostile crowd.
For Douglas, these yards were different than his late-game, clock-eating touches at home against South Carolina. For Green, his work load was significantly larger and more crucial than his lone rush—an 18-yarder—last week against LSU.
The future is bright for these two young running backs, and with uncertainty surrounding Marshall and Gurley, that may be the only solace that can be found in this game.
Although not confirmed, Marshall's injury is believed to be serious. Fortunately for Georgia, the Dawgs will once again have three capable running backs in the lineup once Gurley returns.
Green, the smaller of the two freshman backs, plays a game very similar to that of Marshall. His strength lies in his vision, elusiveness and ability to make cuts. If his play Saturday was any indication, the drop-off from Marshall may not be entirely insurmountable.
Douglas offers a running style that is equally complementary to Gurley, but more reliant on power. Originally recruited as a fullback, Douglas will be counted upon to spell Gurley on early down, short-yardage scenarios.
And if Gurley's season thus far is any indication, he might need a little more rest. After all, his ankle problem is the second injury that he's had to fight off this year (he injured his hamstring against Clemson in Week 1).
Gurley may or may not be back next week against Missouri. Mark Richt said his situation was 50-50, according to Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph. But with or without him next week, it will be interesting to see how Green and Douglas continue to develop and help the Bulldogs win.