This Post is Graphic in Nature: Why Gurshall Will Take a Step Back in 2013, Georgia Fans Need to Lower Expectations


Tuesday Doomsday: Gurshall will not be as good in 2013.

This is the first in a series of posts that will discredit the hype surrounding a given college football subject.  Coaches, players, teams and other things will all come under fire.  In an effort to avoid bigotry, the very first subject at hand will be Georgia’s dynamic duo: my beloved Gurshall.  

In 2012 two freshmen running backs at the University of Georgia, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, combined to rush for 2,144 yards and 25 TDs.  Gurshall became more than a phonetically convenient nickname for the duo as they combined to shatter the freshman numbers of Herschel Walker (Gurshall accounted for 666 more yards of offense and 12 more touchdowns).

If I wanted to get picky, I’d say the “combined” comparisons aren’t necessary, because Todd Gurley’s freshman campaign was as good as Herschel Walker’s.  Sure, Walker edged Gurley in yardage (1686 to 1502), but Gurley registered 18 total touchdowns (17 on the ground, one on a kick return) to Walker’s 15 and averaged 6.31 yards per offensive touch to Herschel’s 6.0.

And, the case for Keith Marshall relative to Gurley is compelling.  Marshall averaged more yards per carry (6.5 to 6.2) and more yards per catch than Gurley (8.3 to 7.3).  He also registered three runs (two against Tennessee, one against Auburn) that were longer than any run Todd Gurley put up in 2012.

Gurshall puts me, a Georgia fan, on slippery ground.  On one hand, I’m going to be labeled blasphemous for even alluding to the fact that Todd Gurley might have had a better freshman season in 2012 than Herschel Walker did back in 1980.  On the other hand, I’m going to be ridiculed if I don’t declare both Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall as Heisman candidates heading into 2013.  If you aren’t a Georgia fan, that might not make sense to you, but perhaps this will help you understand the paradox:

The average Georgia fan over the age of 40 will tell you these things about Herschel Walker with the utmost in sincerity:  Herschel was 245 pounds, ran a 4.2 forty-yard dash and could pick-and-choose whether he was running around the defense or through the defense on any given play.  I certainly mean no disrespect to Herschel (the greatest player in SEC history), but if that was the case why did he only average 6.0 yards per touch in 1980?  In reality, Herschel was big and he was fast.  He wasn’t substantially bigger than Todd Gurley (both were 6-1, Herschel’s playing weight was 225 while Gurley is listed at 232).  He wasn’t necessarily faster than Gurley or Marshall – Herschel ran the 100 meter dash in 10.9 seconds,  Gurley ran it in 10.7, Marshall ran it in 10.44.  Is that football speed?  Not necessarily, but I’m not an easy sell with regards to the “Herschel was definitely faster than Marshall in pads” product.

I say everything that I’ve said in this intro to make three points:

  1. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall had phenomenal freshman campaigns.
  2. The general consensus among Bulldog fans is that they will dominate to an even greater extent in 2013.
  3. I will probably get burned at the stake for this, but I don’t think they will produce at the same level in 2013.

Before I’m accused of Don Draper hashish-inspired hallucinations, let’s take a closer look.

Yes.  Let’s take a closer look now.

Todd Gurley

We all know what Todd Gurley did as a whole last year, but some of his inconsistency is ignored – and perhaps rightfully so.  Nonetheless, Gurley’s 2012 campaing was not without fault.  Yes, Gurley had nine games in which he ran for 100 or more yards and yes he had five multi-TD games.  But, he also had five games in which he rushed for fewer than 100 yards and four of those games saw him finish for under 70 yards.

  • Gurley was largely M.I.A. for long portions of the Missouri game (65 yards, 1 TD)
  • He (and the rest of the team) was terrible against South Carolina (13 carries, 39 yards, 0 TDs)
  • He was disappointing against Kentucky (12 carries, 47 yards, 0 TDs)
  • He was mediocre against Georgia Southern (15 carries, 68 yards, 1 TD)

Furthermore, much of Gurley’s statistical impressiveness was a result of his hot start.  This graph shows Gurley’s cumulative yards per carry as the season progressed.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

His early production was as important and as credible as any success he had late in the season, but it tapered off severely.  I’m not sure that we should necessarily expect the early domination he had in 2012 as he faces Clemson, South Carolina and LSU  early in 2013.  And, if Gurley had a lower “starting point” in the realm of yards per carry, who’s to say that his season average might not be significantly lower?

Along those same lines, the following chart shows Gurley’s cumulative touchdowns per carry over the course of the season.

gurleytds

Click to enlarge.

Lastly, Georgia is playing with a young and inexperienced defense this season.  If that defense proves to be a weakness for the team, expect Georgia to strive for a more ball-control oriented approach to offense.  What does that mean for Gurley?  Most likely an increase in carries.

Perhaps his average load will increase from 16 carries per game to 20.  Sounds great, right?  Not necessarily.  Four times last season (against Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Nebraska) Gurley carried the ball 20+ times.  He failed to match his season average of 6.23 yards per carry in all four of those games (combined he averaged 5.1 ypc in those games).

Keith Marshall

Marshall might be destined for stardom, but a lot remains unknown about him as far as collegiate production is concerned.  Like Gurley, the more Marshall touched the ball in 2012 the less productive he was.  On the season Marshall averaged 6.48 yards per carry.  In his three games with more than ten carries (yes, only three: Missouri, South Carolina, Ole Miss) he averaged only 2.77 yards per carry.

More concerning, however, was Marshall’s general disappearance at times in 2012.  Whether this was schematic, coaching-based or a reflection of skillset shortcomings, he had a tendency to be on the sideline in close games:

  • Against Kentucky (a surprisingly and depressingly close game): 6 carries, 23 yards, 0 TDs.
  • Against Florida: 4 carries, 4 yards, 0 TDs.
  • Against Alabama: 2 carries, 3 yards, 0 TDs.

When over 21% of your season is reflected by the following statline, I’m going to have a few doubts:

12 carries, 30 yards, 0 TDs

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The chart above represents a number of things:

  1. Marshall was extremely erratic in rushing production (yards as measured by the blue line).
  2. Case in point: he averaged 54 yards per game (the green line), but he never registered a total of rushing yards within 5 yards of his season average (that range being: 49-59).  Expand those parameters to 10 yards (44-64 yards) and you still will only find one game (the season opener against Buffalo).  Even with 15 yards of variation (in either direction) from his season average (39-69 yards) only two games (the aforementioned Buffalo game and Georgia Tech) can be found.  That’s crazy!  Seriously, as I type this my mind hole is getting blown.  Maybe I am having Draper-like mind manipulations.
  3. Marshall’s season peaked against Tennessee – both on an individual game basis (blue line) and cumulative season yardage average basis (red line).
  4. Marshall’s three best games – FAU, Tennessee, Auburn – were against teams who combined to win a total of two games against BCS Conference opponents.

Gurshall

Lastly, Georgia was extremely fortunate on the health front last year.  The offensive line was largely in-tact allowing Gurshall to run, but more importantly, neither Marshall or Gurley missed significant time to injury.  That doesn’t happen often.  To further that point, last year was the first year since 1993 that neither of Georgia’s top-two rushers missed a game:

  • 2012: Todd Gurley, 0 games missed.  Keith Marshall, 0 games missed.
  • 2011: Isaiah Crowell, 2 games missed.  Carlton Thomas, 4 games missed.
  • 2010: Washaun Ealey, 1 game missed.  Caleb King, 5 games missed.
  • 2009: Washaun Ealey, 4 games missed.  Caleb King, 3 games missed.
  • 2008: Knowshon Moreno, 0 games missed.  Caleb King, 2 games missed.
  • 2007: Knowshon Moreno, 0 games missed.  Thomas Brown, 3 games missed.
  • 2006: Kregg Lumpkin, 0 games missed.  Danny Ware, 1 games missed.
  • 2005: Thomas Brown, 1 game missed.  Danny Ware, 0 games missed.
  • 2004: Thomas Brown, 1 game missed.  Danny Ware, 1 game missed.
  • 2003: Michael Cooper, 1 game missed.  Kregg Lumpkin, 2 games missed.
  • 2002: Musa Smith, 1 game missed.  Tony Milton, 0 games missed.
  • 2001: Verron Haynes, 2 games missed. Musa Smith, 3 games missed.
  • 2000: Brett Millican, 1 game missed.  Jasper Sanks, 3 games missed.
  • 1999: Jasper Sanks, 1 game missed.  Patrick Pass, 1 game missed.
  • 1998: Olandis Gary, 1 game missed.  Quincy Carter, 1 game missed.
  • 1997: Robert Edwards, 2 games missed.  Olandis Gary, 1 game missed.
  • 1996: Robert Edwards, 0 games missed.  Patrick Pass, 1 game missed.
  • 1995: Torin Kirtsey, 2 games missed.  Robert Edwards, 10 games missed.
  • 1994: Terrell Davis, 3 games missed.  Hines Ward, 0 games missed.

So, in nineteen years only one duo managed to play in every single game for the Bulldogs.  From 1994-2011 the average top-2 rusher for UGA missed 1.78 games.  Gurshall combined to miss 0 last year.

If it’s ridiculous to expect Herschel to ever be replicated then I think it is at the very least unreasonable to expect a second-consecutive season of Gurshall playing in every single game.

Application/Prediction

Gurshall won’t have a bad season.  The two-headed monster has too much talent and focus to disappear.  But, fans should taper expectations a bit.  With that in mind, here are a few predictions:

  • Gurshall accounts for fewer rushing yards in 2013 than in 2012.
  • Keith Marshall closes the yardage gap with Todd Gurley.
  • Neither player averages 6.0 yards per carry.
  • Neither player rushes for more than 15 TDs.

If you know me, then you know I hope I’m wrong about all of this.  Now go on, hit me with a deluge of hate.

That’s all I got/

Andrew

About Andrew Hall

College Football Writer

Posted on June 4, 2013, in Blog, Georgia Bulldogs, SEC and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Dude, Herschel missed time in 1980. Gurley’s year was not as good. It didn’t include a title other than Eastern division. While I loved the UF and Bama performances you point out that Ky and SC weren’t good. 34 didn’t have games like that. I love all 3 but let’s not go crazy here. Go Dawgs!

    • All very, very valid points. If I were to counter (and again, I’m not saying Gurley was better than Herschel so much as I’m saying that a Gurley/Herschel comparison is more applicable than a Gurley AND Marshall comparison to Herschel):

      –Herschel might have “missed time” but he still managed 52 more carries than Gurley. It’s hard to argue that missing raw time (or even games, as the Dawgs played fewer in 1980) limits production more than actual carries.

      –Herschel had a few “down” games too: 69 yards & 0 TDs against TCU, 44 yards & 0 TDs against Ole Miss, 77 yards & 1 TD against Auburn.

      –Herschel ran for fewer than 100 yards four times in 12 games. Gurley ran for fewer than 100 five times in 14 games. Those are fairly similar numbers.

      — Herschel’s four games under 100 yards came against Tennessee (5-6 record in 1980), TCU (1-10), Ole Miss (3-8) and Auburn (5-6). So you can’t say that he was limited by four really good teams. And Herschel carried the ball an average of 17.75 times in those games (Gurley averaged 15.85 carries per game in 2012), so it’s hard to argue that he “just didn’t get the ball because he was playing a bad team.”

      Again, those are my counters; not necessarily the entirety of my opinion.

      Thanks for reading, it is sincerely appreciated.

  2. Think you missed on times. Marshal – 10.6 and herchel at 10.23. Big difference.

    Herchel was a freak of nature. He was right at being a world class sprinter. Marshal and gurley are very fast but not in same league as 34.

  3. It’s not farfetched in what you are saying. There is only one way UGA can go in offensive stats. They set about every school record last year. Success of Gurshall depends on the OL.

    As far as Herschel vs Gurley, keep in mind a couple key stats. The game is much more offensive today versus then even with the rules, they favor the offenses. Remember, they did not count Herschel’s bowl game stats thus HW still owns the SEC td record, not the goober from Gainesville. Plus he did it in 3 years vs 4 years. So, you can add some yards and td’s.

    As far as speed, HW still owns the NCAA record for the 60 yd dash. He owned about every NCAA record when he left UGA and that was against 9 and 10 men fronts. Today, they can’t even put 8 in the box because of Murray. Let’s be honest , Buck is no Murray.

    • Very good points.

      Herschel got more carries than Gurley, but it’s hard to argue against the fact that defending against Murray is much more difficult than against ole Buck.

      Thanks for reading.

  4. Love the research. The comparison to Herschel is valid. But I do not think stats alone tell the whole story. First, Herschel did not have Aaron Murray and a squad of receivers. If defenses loaded the box in 2012, Murray ate their lunch. Everyone including my grandma knew Herschel was caring the ball on the next play, so the box was always loaded. On the other hand, defenses were not as big and fast in 1980 as they are today.

    Second the measure of Herschel is not just in stats. A third and 2 was a guaranteed first down. On the play, the pile would build in the middle, and Herschel would vertically leap, no lie, 3 feet over the pile. More than once, he bounced off and ran for a touchdown.

    Third, Gurley was better than Marshal last year. He could make significant gains with nothing more than half a hole and a few stiff arms. Marshal needed space.

    I expect our duo to have better stats this year. Murray and the line should be better, and I am excited to see a beefed up Marshall. I am one of those old dawgs to whom you refer. I agree Gurley is good, he’s Garrison Hearst, Robert Edwards, Knowshon Moreno good. But I was awe struck watching Herschel week after week. It was one of those rare times when you realized you were watching something historic as it was happening.

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