NCF Nation: Fred Taylor

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
10:15
AM ET
Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneAaron Murray is on the verge of breaking several SEC career records, but also needs to help keep Georgia in the SEC East race.
1. Missouri offense vs. Florida defense: Missouri earned its biggest victory in its year-plus in the SEC last weekend when it beat Georgia. The Tigers' challenging October schedule continues this week when No. 22 Florida brings its fearsome defense to Columbia, and the Tigers must face those Gators without starting quarterback James Franklin, who separated his shoulder against Georgia. Freshman Maty Mauk did a fine job against Georgia's subpar defense, but he will face few stiffer challenges than what he'll face Saturday against a Florida defense that is allowing just 235.3 yards per game. Mizzou is third in the SEC in total offense with an average of 515.7 yards per game, so the many talented skill players at Mauk's disposal will have to give the new starter a hand on Saturday.

2. Record watch in Nashville: In Saturday's Georgia-Vanderbilt game, a handful of SEC career records could fall. With 112 career touchdown passes, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is just two behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record. And with 12,203 career yards of total offense, Murray needs 29 yards to match Tim Tebow's SEC mark. On the other sideline, Vandy's Jordan Matthews needs 97 receiving yards to match Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 yards. Matthews had 119 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season.

3. Gators running game: With the news this week that running back Matt Jones became the seventh Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury, the Gators' running game is now largely in the hands of Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. Brown has been solid enough thus far, rushing for a team-high 340 yards. But Taylor is the guy many Gators fans are excited about. The son of UF great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor has rushed 16 times for 98 yards (6.1 per carry), including 10 carries for 52 yards in last week's slugfest against LSU. Missouri's run defense ranks third in the SEC at 126.2 YPG, but Georgia freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas ran for 157 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry against the Tigers' last week. The Gators probably need Brown and Taylor to be similarly productive in order to hang with the Tigers' prolific offense.

4. Marshall back for Auburn: After sitting out last week's blowout win against Western Carolina with a knee injury, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall returns to the lineup this week against Texas A&M. Marshall rushed for 140 yards -- the most by an SEC quarterback this season -- in his last game, the Tigers' 30-22 win on Oct. 5 against then-No. 24 Ole Miss. He led the resurgent Tigers to a 4-1 record before taking a seat last week while true freshman Jeremy Johnson played for the first time -- and won SEC Freshman of the Week honors -- against the overmatched Catamounts.

5. Can Georgia recover? With half a dozen starters sidelined last week against Missouri, Georgia lost its first home game since September 2011. Now the Bulldogs limp to Vanderbilt, where they have struggled in two of their last three visits before earning narrow wins. UGA hopes to reach next week's open date with its SEC East hopes still intact. All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley likely still won't play this week, so the Bulldogs' offense must hope Murray, freshman tailbacks Green and Douglas and their crew of replacement wideouts can generate enough offense to outscore the slumping Commodores.

6. Vols back from open date: The last time we saw Tennessee, it came within an eyelash of upsetting then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime. First-year coach Butch Jones' team took last weekend off and now has another enormous test on its hands: a visit from No. 11 South Carolina, which finally seems to be hitting its stride after some early struggles. Volunteers fans are optimistic about the new coaching staff, but their team hasn't beaten a ranked opponent in its last 19 tries. Their next four opponents are all ranked in this week's AP Top 25.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze and Bo Wallace will try to snap Ole Miss' losing streak against LSU this weekend.
7. Can Hogs “snap out of it?” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said this week that he doesn't want his players to be a bunch of “Debbie Downers” after Saturday's 52-7 loss to South Carolina. That was the Razorbacks' fourth straight loss, the most lopsided loss of Bielema's coaching career and matching his worst defeat as a head coach. Unfortunately for Arkansas, it visits No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, where it will be a four-touchdown underdog. It could be a long second half of the season for the Razorbacks.

8. Maintaining historic run: The SEC set a record when Auburn jumped into this week's AP Top 25, giving the conference eight ranked teams. But that historic total might be short-lived. At No. 24, Auburn will likely drop out if it loses on Saturday at No. 7 Texas A&M. No. 15 Georgia and No. 22 Florida also can't afford a loss if they want to remain in the poll next week.

9. Repeat performance for Aggies? Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense gained 671 total yards, the most ever allowed by an Auburn defense, in last season's 63-21 win against the Tigers. Those 63 points also represented the third-most points ever scored against the Tigers. If that wasn't the last straw for then-coach Gene Chizik and his staff, it was awfully close. New coach Gus Malzahn has instilled new optimism on the Plains. The Tigers are a ranked team for the first time since November 2011, but the Aggies are still a two-touchdown favorite.

10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.
Todd Gurley, Keith MarshallUS Presswire, Icon SMITodd Gurley and Keith Marshall have already rushed for a combined 964 yards and 15 scores.
In the realm of Georgia football, it’s the ultimate compliment.

Freshman running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have burst onto the scene in such explosive fashion that teammates and fans have taken to calling the duo “Gurshall.”

That’s right, a tribute to the great Herschel Walker, who ran his way into SEC lore more than 30 years ago, and to this day, remains the standard for running backs in this league.

Too early to make such comparisons?

Yep, way too early.

But there’s no denying how good Gurley and Marshall have been to this point and the impact they’ve made on the No. 5 Bulldogs.

They’ve combined to rush for 964 yards and score 15 touchdowns … in just five games.

Marshall ripped off touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards last week against Tennessee. Gurley has four scoring runs of 29 yards or longer, and he also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the season opener.

Their ability to strike so quickly and generate yardage in chunks is a big reason the Bulldogs have scored 40 or more points in all five of their games.

Consider this: Gurley has eight rushes of 20 yards or longer, which is tied for the most among FBS players. Marshall is close behind with five runs of 20 yards or longer. Last season, no Georgia player had more than six rushes of 20 yards or longer

As a team, the Bulldogs had three rushing touchdowns of 20 yards or longer last season. Gurley and Marshall have already combined for seven in five games this season.

[+] EnlargeThomas Brown and Danny Ware
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisBefore Gurley and Marshall, Danny Ware and Thomas Brown carried the Bulldogs to a 10-2 record and an Outback Bowl victory in 2004.
The stakes get higher and the stage gets bigger this weekend for “Gurshall” when No. 5 Georgia travels to Columbia, S.C., to take on No. 6 South Carolina, which is allowing just 2.2 yards per carry and features one of the best defensive lines in the SEC.

But nothing has seemed to faze these guys, who’re both from North Carolina and mapped it out in high school that they would attend the same college if possible.

“It’s been a blessing, just to be able to come in and have all this success this early as a freshman and getting all this attention,” said Gurley, who has 10 touchdowns. “We just keep trying to find things to get better on every day.”

There’s still a lot left of this season, but good luck in finding two true freshmen on the same team who’ve come into the SEC made the kind of splash “Gurshall” has.

Who are some of the other dynamic first-year duos that would compare?

Here’s a look, and we’ll start with the “old” guys first. Again, these are true freshmen:

RB Dalton Hilliard/RB Garry James, LSU, 1982: They were known as the “Dalton-James Gang” and combined for 1,611 rushing yards and scored 25 touchdowns. The Tigers went 8-3-1 that season and lost 21-20 to No. 3 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Hilliard rushed for 901 yards and 11 touchdowns and James 710 yards and seven touchdowns. They also combined to catch 52 passes for seven more touchdowns.

RB Neal Anderson/RB John L. Williams, Florida, 1982: The famed Florida duo combined for 853 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in what was Charley Pell’s next-to-last full season at Florida. The Gators went 8-4 and lost in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Anderson rushed for 197 yards in his first collegiate start against Kentucky and scored three touchdowns.

RB Keith Henderson/RB Tim Worley, Georgia, 1985: Just a few years after Walker departed, Henderson and Worley arrived on the scene in Athens. They combined for 1,358 rushing yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Henderson averaged 6.8 yards per carry. The Bulldogs finished 7-3-2 and tied Arizona in the Sun Bowl.

RB James Stewart/RB Aaron Hayden, Tennessee, 1991: The Vols turned to a pair of true freshmen to carry the rushing load in 1991, and Stewart and Hayden combined for 1,643 yards. Stewart just missed the 1,000-yard rushing mark with 939 yards and eight touchdowns. Hayden finished with 704 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught a key screen pass for a touchdown in Tennessee’s memorable comeback win at Notre Dame. The Vols finished 9-3 and lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Penn State.

RB Fred Taylor/WR Reidel Anthony, Florida, 1994: If you throw in receiver Ike Hilliard, the Gators had a trio of stellar true freshmen in 1994. Taylor led the Gators in rushing with 873 yards and eight touchdowns and also caught 29 passes. Anthony caught 30 passes and set Florida freshman records with 615 receiving yards and five touchdown catches. Anthony averaged 20.5 yards per catch. Hilliard also had 22 catches for 306 yards and four touchdowns in Florida’s Fun ‘n’ Gun attack. The Gators finished 10-2 and won their second straight SEC championship.

DE Dennis Johnson/S David Johnson, Kentucky, 1998: The “Johnson Boys” made big splashes for the Wildcats, who had their first winning season (7-5) in eight years and played in the Outback Bowl. Dennis Johnson was a second-team Freshman All-American by The Sporting New and finished with five tackles for loss, including a pair of sacks, two fumble recoveries and a blocked field goal. David Johnson earned first-team Freshman All-America honors. He finished with 53 total tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and returned a fumble for a touchdown.

RB Carnell Williams/CB Carlos Rogers, Auburn, 2001: The Tigers’ “Cadillac” burst onto the scene with 614 rushing yards and six touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Williams’ roommate, Rogers, earned Freshman All-America honors by The Sporting News on defense. He finished with 58 tackles (46 solo) and 12 pass deflections and would go on to win the Jim Thorpe Award as a senior. The Tigers finished 7-5 and lost in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

RB Danny Ware/RB Thomas Brown, Georgia, 2004: They’re the duo “Gurshall” is chasing now in terms of Georgia freshman running back numbers. Ware and Brown combined for 1,567 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in helping Georgia to its third straight season of 10 or more wins. The Bulldogs finished 10-2 and beat Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. Brown led the team in rushing that season with 875 yards and eight touchdowns.

RB Darren McFadden/RB Felix Jones, Arkansas, 2005: McFadden and Jones made a run at the 2,000-yard mark during their freshman seasons. They combined for 1,739 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. McFadden, who was a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, led the way with 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns. Jones had 626 yards and three touchdowns. The Hogs finished with a 4-7 record.

QB Tim Tebow/WR Percy Harvin, Florida, 2006: Do the Gators win the 2006 national championship without Tebow and Harvin? They both came up big in clutch situations. Tebow, the Gators’ short-yardage specialist, was second on the team with 469 rushing yards and led the team with eight rushing touchdowns. He also passed for five touchdowns. In the 41-14 win over Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game, Tebow rushed for a touchdown and passed for a touchdown. Harvin scored five touchdowns and finished with 855 yards in total offense. He averaged 11.4 yards per touch to lead all freshmen nationally. Showing off his versatility, Harvin had a season-high nine catches in the national title game and rushed for a season-high 105 yards in picking up MVP honors in the SEC championship game win over Arkansas.

RB Mark Ingram/WR Julio Jones, Alabama, 2008: Ingram shared carries with 1,383-yard rusher Glenn Coffee, but still managed to churn out 728 yards of his own to go along with 12 touchdowns. Jones was named the SEC Freshman of the Year by The Associated Press and was also a second-team All-SEC selection. He led the Crimson Tide with 58 catches for 924 yards and four touchdowns. He was fourth that season in the SEC in receiving yards per game. Alabama went 12-0 in the regular season, but lost in the SEC championship game to Florida and in the Sugar Bowl to Utah.

WR Alshon Jeffery/CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, 2009: The Gamecocks were able to keep two of the best from their state at home, and Jeffery and Gilmore both had big freshman seasons. Jeffery was named Freshman All-American by several outlets and led the Gamecocks with 46 catches for 763 yards. His six touchdown catches were second on the team. On defense, Gilmore started in all 13 games and also earned Freshman All-America honors. He was fifth on the team with 56 total tackles, including six for loss, and had eight pass breakups. The Gamecocks finished 7-6 and lost to Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl.

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