SEC: Herschel Walker

Herschel Walker said recently that even at 50 he could still play in the NFL.

I’m not about to doubt him. Walker remains the greatest college football player I’ve ever seen play, and more than 30 years after he played his last game at Georgia, I’d still pay a lot of money to watch him play again.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Thomas
USA TODAY SportsDerrick Thomas set an NCAA single-season record for sacks while at Alabama.
In the immortal words of the late Larry Munson, “Oh, you Herschel Walker!”

But his comments got me to thinking: Other than Walker, who are those SEC players no longer playing that I’d most like to see play again?

Below are the five I came up with, and for clarification, they all played during my lifetime and I had a chance to see them play. I go back to the mid-to-late 1970s.

Here goes:

Eric Moulds, WR, Mississippi State: I can still see No. 1 making a catch, shaking off a defender and exploding up the field with that imposing 6-2, 225-pound frame. Even though he didn’t play in a pass-first offense, Moulds was tremendously productive and a nightmare matchup for opposing cornerbacks. In 1994, he averaged 21.7 yards per catch, and seven of his 39 catches that season went for touchdowns. He also led the country that season with a 32.8-yard kickoff return average. You just don’t see receivers every day with his size, strength, speed and hands -- nor his sense of humor. He once had a pizza delivered to a Mississippi State practice.

David Palmer, WR/QB/RS, Alabama: He was pure excitement no matter where he lined up and the ultimate ankle-breaker in the open field. A receiver by trade, “Deuce” was running the spread from the quarterback position before there really was a spread, and he was also a dynamic punt returner. He averaged 16.1 yards on punt returns in 1991 and 15.8 yards per catch for his career (1991-93). In 32 career games, he averaged 122.4 all-purpose yards, which is third all-time in Alabama history. He was a big part of Alabama’s 1992 national championship team, finished third in the 1993 Heisman Trophy balloting and was easily one of the most entertaining players to play in the SEC in my lifetime.

[+] EnlargeEmmitt Smith
USA TODAY SportsEmmitt Smith twice led the SEC in rushing.
Emmitt Smith, RB, Florida: Most people in thinking back to Smith’s career remember his days with the Dallas Cowboys and all those Super Bowl championship teams he played on in Big D. But before he rose to fame in the NFL, Smith was a tackle-breaking machine with the Gators. Nobody ever seemed to be able to get a good shot in on him. Tackling the guy was like trying to tackle a beer keg, and he had deceptive acceleration. The coaches voted him SEC Player of the Year in 1989, and he set 58 Florida records. He led the SEC in rushing in 1987 and 1989, and in my mind, remains the standard in this league when it comes to getting the tough yards.

Derrick Thomas, OLB, Alabama: Sadly, we lost Thomas in 2000 following a car accident. Those who saw him play with the Kansas City Chiefs know what a disruptive force he was coming off the edge. Seven sacks in one game speaks for itself. But before he carved out a Pro Football Hall of Fame career, Thomas was terrorizing SEC quarterbacks. He set an NCAA record in 1988 with 27 sacks and finished his career with 52 sacks. His pass-rushing ferocity was something to behold. Coaches throw around the term “unblockable” pretty freely these days, but Thomas was the essence of the term and one of the true measuring sticks in this league when it comes to rushing the passer.

Al Wilson, LB, Tennessee: The heart and soul of Tennessee’s 1998 national championship team, Wilson played every game as if it were his last. He almost single-handedly willed the Vols to their dramatic 20-17 win over Florida in 1998 with 12 tackles and a school-record three forced fumbles. It’s no coincidence that in Wilson’s three seasons as a starter at Tennessee that the Vols were 34-4 with a pair of SEC championships and a national championship. Wilson played the game with a fire that filtered down to his teammates and was at his best when it meant the most. He finished his career second all-time on Tennessee’s tackles-for-loss list and remains one of the most revered players in school history.

Looking at other memorable SEC plays

November, 18, 2013
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They will be talking about Nick Marshall’s miraculous 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis on the Plains for a long time.

As Hail Marys go, that one has to be right there at the top. But where does that play rank among some of the more thrilling and/or memorable ones in SEC history?

[+] EnlargeRicardo Louis
Shanna LockwoodRicardo Louis' catch will live in SEC lore.
Here’s a look at a few more that will live eternally, and we’ve listed them chronologically.

Obviously, there are countless others. Let us know what we’ve missed.

  • Oct. 31, 1959: Billy Cannon’s tackle-breaking 89-yard punt return on Halloween night stands as one of the most famous plays in college football history. It was the only touchdown scored that game, lifting No. 1 LSU to a 7-3 win over No. 3 Ole Miss in Baton Rouge.
  • Dec. 2, 1967: Alabama quarterback Ken Stabler’s 47-yard touchdown to beat Auburn 7-3 is known simply as “The Run in the Mud.” The game was played in a driving rainstorm, and Stabler saved the Tide that day with his scamper around right end in what was a quagmire of a field.
  • Dec. 7, 1972: Known as the “Punt, Bama, Punt” game, Auburn’s Bill Newton blocked two Alabama punts in the fourth quarter, both returned for touchdowns by David Langner to lead the Tigers to a 17-16 win over the previously unbeaten and heavily favored Crimson Tide. Langner’s game-winning score came in the final minute and a half.
  • Jan. 1, 1979: Who can forget Barry Krauss’ fourth-down, midair stop of Penn State’s Mike Guman just inches short of the goal line in the Sugar Bowl? It’s one of the most memorable defensive plays in Alabama’s storied history and preserved a 14-7 win over the Nittany Lions, leading to the first of two straight national titles for the Tide.
  • Sept. 6, 1980: It was the day Herschel Walker was introduced to the college football world. He ran over Bill Bates at the goal line on the first of two touchdown runs in his freshman debut, rallying Georgia to a 16-15 win over Tennessee in Knoxville and setting the stage for the Bulldogs’ national championship run.
  • Nov. 1, 1980: Mississippi State snapped Alabama’s 28-game winning streak with a 6-3 win over the Tide in Jackson, Miss. With the Tide threatening in the final seconds on first-and-goal from the 4, the Bulldogs got a huge defensive play to secure one of the more memorable upsets in SEC history. Tyrone Keys darted through and forced Alabama quarterback Don Jacobs to fumble on an option play, and Billy Jackson was there to recover for Mississippi State. Afterward, Bear Bryant came into the Mississippi State locker room to congratulate the Bulldogs.
  • Nov. 8, 1980: This one also has its own name, “Run, Lindsay, Run.” Lindsay Scott’s 93-yard touchdown catch and run on third-and-8 from Georgia’s own 7 allowed the Bulldogs to pull out a 26-21 win over Florida in the final seconds in Jacksonville and keep alive their national championship season.
  • Oct. 8, 1988: There aren’t many touchdowns that lead to earthquakes, but Tommy Hodson’s game-winning 11-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Fuller on fourth down in LSU's 7-6 victory over Auburn registered vibrations on a seismograph in the LSU geology department.
  • Dec. 5, 1992: Antonio Langham returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown with 3:15 to play in the inaugural SEC championship game, leading Alabama to a 28-21 win over Florida and setting the stage for the Tide’s national championship victory over Miami in the Sugar Bowl.
  • Nov. 14, 1998: Clint Stoerner’s stumble and fumble after it appeared all Arkansas had to do was run out the clock in the final 1:43 gave Tennessee new life, and the Vols zipped in for the game-winning touchdown to stay unbeaten and keep alive their 1998 national championship season in miraculous fashion.
  • Nov. 9, 2002: Yep, another one with a nickname, “The Bluegrass Miracle.” Marcus Randall threw a desperation 75-yard touchdown pass that was batted around and caught by Devery Henderson as time expired, lifting LSU to a 33-30 win over Kentucky in Lexington.
  • Nov. 16, 2002: David Greene threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Michael Johnson on fourth-and-15 with 1:25 to play, giving Georgia a 24-21 win over Auburn on the Plains and paving the way for the Bulldogs’ first SEC championship in 22 years.

Q&A: UGA DE Garrison Smith

October, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- As the lone senior starter on Georgia's defense, preseason All-SEC defensive end Garrison Smith probably knew before the season that there would be some bumps in the road as the Bulldogs faced a number of highly-ranked opponents in the first half of the season.

The group's struggles have probably been a bit worse than the Bulldogs expected, however, with Georgia ranking dead last in the SEC in scoring defense (33.7 ppg), eighth in total defense (399 ypg) and forcing just three turnovers by opposing offenses to date.

[+] EnlargeGarrison Smith
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIDE Garrison Smith expected some growing pains, but he says the young UGA defense will continue to improve with more experience.
Smith discussed the defensive struggles this week, as well as teammate Ray Drew's recent emergence two seasons after signing with Georgia as a highly-recruited five-star defensive end.

Here is some of what Smith had to say:

What has been your impression of Ray Drew's play lately?

Garrison Smith: He's doing good. I'm proud of him and I'm glad he's doing good. Like I said, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. Everybody can't be a Herschel Walker. Everybody blossoms at different times.

Do you think he just needed to develop some confidence? He came here as such a big prospect -- the only defensive end rated higher than he was in 2011 was Jadeveon Clowney -- and it seemed for a while there like it was reasonable to wonder whether Ray would ever pan out.

Smith: Let's be honest, it kind of messes with you when you're a five-star recruit and you get all this attention and love from the media and public about how good you are, and then all of a sudden you come to college and you're nothing no more. You've got to build yourself all the way back up and you're not playing on that level that you want to play on and then you've got the guy right in front of you playing like he's in the NFL already, Jadeveon Clowney. So that would mess with anybody's self-esteem. But that's why it's like a marathon. It's not about how you start, it's how you finish and he's getting better and better, and that's what it's all about.

Did you deal with that at all? You were a U.S. Army All-American, but it was around the end of your sophomore season before you started to make an impact.

Smith: I knew I was going to have trouble because I came out of a program where I was just taught to go play. My coaches [at Atlanta's Douglass High School, which went 1-9 in Smith's senior season] just told me, 'Go do what you know how to do. Make plays.' So I knew I was going to have trouble, but I was just determined to learn what I had to learn to make me a better player. I just knew that in time, I would get it. I'm getting it. I'm still getting better. I'm getting better every day, so it's that sort of situation, same thing. But I knew how my situation was going to be, so I wasn't surprised or depressed or anything like that.

What is the key factor in you guys becoming more effective at generating turnovers?

Smith: Just patience. Just working hard. That's what it's all about. When we get them sacks, we've got to try to strip the quarterback and just think about it.

Is part of it that the defense is so young?

Smith: It's experience. As you get more comfortable, you're able to do different things. When you're so young and so fresh to the game, you're just trying to not make a mistake and make sure you get the person down.

Is it frustrating to you older players on defense that some of the young guys are having to find their way right now?

Smith: It don't frustrate me because I was that guy at one time, so I can't look down on somebody else. I was once in that situation. I've got a very different outlook because I can see things from both sides of the perspective. That's why I don't point the finger at anyone. I point the finger at myself and the defensive line because we've got to get more pressure on the quarterback to take the pressure off of them. That's how I look at things. I don't ever say, 'It's his fault, it's his fault.' It's not their fault. We've got to do better as a whole.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Scour the locker rooms at Georgia and Clemson and it might be difficult to find a player who knows much about their historic rivalry.

“You know me, I don’t know much about Georgia’s history from before I got here,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray chuckled in one such response about the longtime rivalry between schools separated by only about 70 miles.

Murray is far from alone in that regard. The 22-year-old Floridian was 13 the last time Georgia and Clemson met, in 2003, and was not even alive when the annual 1980s meetings between the Bulldogs and Tigers often carried national-title implications.

Fans of a certain age might harken back to those days on Saturday, however, when the rivalry resumes -- ending the longest gap between games since the series started in 1897 -- and No. 5 Georgia visits No. 8 Clemson in Death Valley.

[+] EnlargeClemson, Danny Ford
AP Photo/Kathy WillensCoach Danny Ford and Clemson beat Georgia 13-3 in 1981 and went on to win the national championship.
“Georgia was really good every year, so it meant that doggone it, somebody was going to get a lot of publicity and a lot of press, whoever won that football game,” said former Tigers coach Danny Ford, who will be enshrined in Clemson’s Ring of Honor on Saturday. “You could still be a good football team if you lost that game, but it just put a cramp in everything and it was so early in the year -- the first or second game or third game every year -- and you kind of knew what kind of football team [you had].

“It was kind of like a Wednesday where the kids in school call it Hump Day, you know? You’re in the middle of the week, get your classes over with and you’re about halfway to the weekend. That was the same kind of a hump game, where if you get off and win that football game, you’ve got a great chance to have a good year.”

Back then, your season could be more than good if you slipped away with a win. Thanks to a 67-yard punt return touchdown by Scott Woerner and a 98-yard Woerner interception return that set up another score, Georgia edged Clemson 20-16 in 1980 despite failing to register a single first down in the opening half.

“At the end, they’re back down there and Jeff Hipp makes an interception on about the 1-yard line right at the end of the game,” recalled former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, who posted a 15-6-1 record against Clemson in his 25 seasons as the Bulldogs’ coach. “But statistic-wise, they just knocked us all over the place.”

The 10th-ranked Bulldogs went on to win the national title that season after barely surviving the Tigers’ upset bid. And Clemson returned the favor the following year, generating nine turnovers to beat Herschel Walker and No. 4 Georgia 13-3 en route to a national title of its own.

Clemson’s 1981 win marked the only time that Georgia lost in the regular season during Walker’s three seasons on campus.

“They’re the only team that he played more than once in his college career and didn’t score a touchdown against,” said UGA grad Kyle King, whose new book detailing the Georgia-Clemson series history, “Fighting Like Cats and Dogs,” was published, oddly enough, by the Clemson University Digital Press. “So they really were the ones who -- to the extent anyone had Herschel’s number -- they’re the ones who had his number.”

[+] EnlargeVince Dooley
Dale Zanine/US Presswire for ESPN.comIn 25 years as coach at Georgia , Vince Dooley posted a 15-6-1 record against Clemson.
Just how close were the two teams in their respective pursuits of the national title? Georgia scored exactly 316 points during the 1980 regular season before beating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim its first national title since 1942. The following year, Clemson matched that scoring total to the number, notching the very same 316 points in the regular season before beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to claim the school’s first national championship.

The series continued to produce memorable outcomes on an annual basis throughout the 1980s. Take 1982, for example, when No. 7 Georgia hosted No. 11 Clemson in the first night game in decades at Sanford Stadium. Much like Saturday’s game at Clemson, the 1982 game aired before a prime-time national TV audience on ABC -- that year on Labor Day evening.

Bulldogs defenders picked off four passes by Clemson quarterback and Athens native Homer Jordan en route to a 13-7 win and another undefeated regular season. Once again, the Georgia-Clemson winner played in the game that would determine the national champion, although the Bulldogs lost this time, 27-23 to Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.

Nonetheless, those first three games set the standard for one of the nastiest rivalries of the 1980s -- one where defense, big special-teams plays and general hard-nosed aggression became trademarks.

“I remember it was always a tough game for Georgia. It was a tough game, period,” said Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon, who appeared in the series’ last two games, in 2002 and 2003, and whose father Willie preceded him as a Georgia player and coach. “It was always one of the biggest games out there in the country and it’s a lot like this year, to be honest with you. You never knew who was going to come out on top. Both teams always had high expectations going into each year, let alone that game. It was always a hard-fought war out there on the field.”

There was the 1984 game where Georgia beat No. 2 Clemson 26-23 on a 60-yard Kevin Butler field goal -- a play that produced what King called Bulldogs announcer Larry Munson’s most memorable call from a home game, when he estimated that Butler would “try to kick one 100,000 miles” and then proclaimed that “the stadium is worse than bonkers” once the kick cleared the uprights.

Clemson enjoyed its own kicking-game heroics in 1986 and 1987, when David Treadwell booted game-winning field goals at the end of the Tigers’ respective 31-28 and 21-20 victories.

“We were so evenly matched, and so many came down to a field goal or a touchdown, and we were so evenly matched that all of them kind of run together in my thoughts,” Ford recalled. “They’d win one and we’d win one.”

That proved true throughout Ford’s 11-year tenure at Clemson. A rivalry that Georgia once dominated -- the Bulldogs are 41-17-4 all-time against the Tigers and went 11-1-1 against Frank Howard, the winningest coach in Clemson history -- was extremely even in the 1980s.

Ford went 4-4-1 against Georgia while at Clemson. The scoring differential during that period? Georgia 153, Clemson 152.

“It was more about respectability for us because Georgia had the upper hand for so long back when Coach Howard [was here],” Ford said. “I tell the story all the time that Coach Howard would have to play Georgia and Georgia Tech, who was in the SEC back then, Alabama and Auburn and lose four games to have enough money to make his budget and then win the ACC conference. But back then he had to do that and he couldn’t hardly ever get them to come play at our place. It was just a thing of respectability I think, more so for us in the '80s."

Respectability is no longer a problem for either of the programs who will renew their longtime rivalry on Saturday in Death Valley. Georgia’s Mark Richt led his team within an eyelash of playing for the BCS title last year, and the Bulldogs enter Saturday’s game with their highest preseason ranking since opening the 2008 campaign in the No. 1 spot. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has led the Tigers to a 21-6 record over the last two seasons and, blessed with a Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Tajh Boyd, should boast one of the nation’s most explosive offenses.

The programs no longer resemble the Ford- and Dooley-era squads that relied on defense and the kicking game to win low-scoring games, but considering the standing the Georgia-Clemson game once held in the national championship race, it seems fitting that Saturday’s reunion occupies a marquee spot in college football’s opening weekend.

“I grew up with this game being played pretty much every year, and it was at a time that Georgia beat Florida every year, and Georgia beat Georgia Tech every year, so Clemson and Auburn were really the two games that you went into the year thinking, ‘Boy, I hope we can get out of that one with a W,’ ” King said. “I didn’t want to lose that, and that was really what ultimately inspired me to go back and write this book.

“We’re going into a season where it looks like you have two top-10 teams, two frontrunners in their conferences, two top-drawer quarterbacks going up against one another,” he added. “I think it’s important to remind fans that this isn’t a new thing. We butted heads with these guys in big games before, and hopefully we’ll get the chance to keep doing it in the future.”

Rushing for 1,000 yards in the SEC

December, 18, 2012
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This season, there were eight 1,000-yard rushers in the SEC, which ties for the most in league history.

There’s a chance that record, which was set in 2007, could be broken in the bowl games. Mississippi State’s LaDarius Perkins has 940 yards and needs 60 more against Northwestern in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl to reach the 1,000-yard plateau.

The Alabama duo of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon made history by becoming the first two players in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Lacy has 1,182 yards and Yeldon 1,000 yards. They’re the first two running backs in the SEC to accomplish that feat since Arkansas’ Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in 2007.

Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy went over 1,000 yards for the second year in a row. He’s one of only nine players in the SEC over the last decade to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, joining the likes of Carnell Williams, Knowshon Moreno, McFadden and Jones.

Before Stacy showed up, Vanderbilt hadn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Jermaine Johnson rushed for 1,072 yards in 1995.

Mike Gillislee, with 1,104 yards, became Florida’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Faison had 1,267 yards in 2004.

And when it came to talented freshman runners, this was absolutely a season to remember in the SEC. Georgia’s Todd Gurley leads the league with 1,260 rushing yards. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel is not too far behind him with 1,181 yards and actually leads the league in rushing yards per game (98.4). He’s the first quarterback to do so since Cam Newton in 2004. Yeldon makes it three SEC freshmen with at least 1,000 yards.

To put that number in perspective, prior to this season, only nine freshmen in the history of the SEC had rushed for 1,000 yards, a list highlighted by Herschel Walker with 1,616 yards in 1980. Tennessee’s Jamal Lewis is second on that list with 1,364 yards in 1997, and Florida’s Emmitt Smith is third with 1,341 yards in 1987.

So, some pretty exclusive company.

Over the last five seasons, Alabama and Auburn lead the SEC with five 1,000-yard rushers apiece. The only year during that stretch that the Crimson Tide didn’t have a player to rush for 1,000 yards was 2010. The Tigers didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher in 2008, but have produced one each of the last four seasons. Michael Dyer and Newton both topped the 1,000-yard mark during the 2010 national championship season.

Below is a look at all of the league’s 1,000-yard rushers over the last five seasons. The only school in the league that hasn’t produced one during that stretch (not counting first-year league member Missouri) is Kentucky:

2012
  • Todd Gurley, Georgia – 1,260
  • Eddie Lacy, Alabama – 1,182
  • Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – 1,181
  • Mike Gillislee, Florida – 1,104
  • Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt – 1,034
  • Kendial Lawrence, Missouri – 1,025
  • Tre Mason, Auburn – 1,002
  • T.J. Yeldon, Alabama – 1,000
2011
  • Trent Richardson, Alabama – 1,679
  • Michael Dyer, Auburn – 1,242
  • Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt – 1,193
  • Vick Ballard, Mississippi State – 1,189
2010
  • Cam Newton, Auburn – 1,473
  • Knile Davis, Arkansas – 1,322
  • Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina – 1,197
  • Stevan Ridley, LSU – 1,147
  • Michael Dyer, Auburn – 1,093
  • Tauren Poole, Tennessee – 1,034
2009
  • Mark Ingram, Alabama – 1,658
  • Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State – 1,391
  • Ben Tate, Auburn – 1,362
  • Montario Hardesty, Tennessee – 1,345
  • Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss – 1,169
2008
  • Knowshon Moreno, Georgia – 1,400
  • Glen Coffee, Alabama – 1,383
  • Charles Scott, LSU – 1,174

GatorNation links: Top 5 rivalry players

October, 22, 2012
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Michael DiRocco writes: Georgia's Herschel Walker and Florida's Danny Wuerffel are two of the top-five performers in the Florida-Georgia rivalry all-time.

DiRocco: Florida's offense is suspect this season, but the Gators' excellense on special teams has helped with field position.

DiRocco Insider: Florida 10: Week 8 power rankings

DiRocco Insider: Scouting report: Georgia
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The Georgia-South Carolina game has always been big, even before the Gamecocks joined the SEC.

These two teams have had some memorable battles going back more than three decades.

In fact, South Carolina Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers was reminiscing about the 1980 game in Athens earlier Saturday while standing on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The Bulldogs, led by freshman Herschel Walker, were ranked No. 4 nationally and would go on to win the national championship that season. The Gamecocks were ranked No. 14, their highest ranking in the AP poll since 1959.

“I can still see Herschel running down that other sideline,” Rogers said of Walker’s long touchdown run. “Nobody could catch him.”

Georgia prevailed 13-10, but only after Rogers lost a fumble late in the game with South Carolina driving deep in the Bulldogs' territory.

“It happened right over there,” said Rogers, pointing across the field to the approximate spot where the fumble occurred 32 years ago in Sanford Stadium. “I still can’t believe I fumbled that ball.”

Rogers, who now works for the University of South Carolina, said the game Saturday night between No. 5 Georgia and No. 6 South Carolina reminds him of that 1980 affair, especially with the national build-up and ESPN’s “College GameDay” being in town.

He just hopes it turns out a lot better for the Gamecocks, who’ve never won three in a row over the Bulldogs.

This is also the first-ever top -0 matchup between the border rivals.

“It’s the way this rivalry is supposed to be,” said Rogers, who was from Duluth, Ga. “It’s one of the best ones out there and always has been.”
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.

DawgNation links: SEC media days

July, 19, 2012
7/19/12
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SEC media days -- David Ching writes: Taking the podium for Georgia at SEC media days Thursday, Mark Richt set to addressing -- right off the bat, of course -- the Isaiah Crowell dismissal.

Video: An interview with Georgia receiver Tavarres King.

AND

Kipp Adams writes: Insider Already one of the hot names at UGA in the 2014 prospect class, an impressive showing at Mark Richt Camp and Dawg Night earned Herschel Walker’s nephew, tight end Milan Richard, an offer from the Bulldogs.

Adams: Insider Four-star defensive lineman and ESPN 300 member Jay Woods has whittled down his dozens of offers to a top six, and it’s no surprise that the in-state Georgia Bulldogs are right up there.

Ching: Around the Hedges in 80 Days -- 44 days to kickoff Insider
There is a reason every major recruiting service ranked incoming UGA freshman Jordan Jenkins among this year’s top 70 prospects: His relentless motor and quick first step seem to predict stardom, particularly once he refines his technique.

DawgNation links: Dawg Night coverage

July, 14, 2012
7/14/12
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DawgNation had several stories late last night and during the day today from UGA’s Dawg Night event. Here are the top offerings.

Radi Nabulsi writes: Insider Five players who impressed the most during Dawg Night drills.

Kipp Adams writes: Insider Tight end Jeb Blazevich of Charlotte, N.C., who holds dozens of offers, said UGA coaches made him feel like a “rock star” while spending the day touring campus before Friday’s Dawg Night festivities.

Nabulsi: Insider Tight end Milan Richard, a class of 2014 prospect who’s the nephew of Herschel Walker, had a standout performance during Dawg Night drills and hopes to receive an offer soon.

David Ching writes: Insider Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham speaks about the impact Dawg Night has on the team’s recruiting efforts.

Adams/staff: Insider Linebacker Tim Kimbrough committed to UGA during Dawg Night.

Adams/staff: Insider Safety Quincy Mauger committed to UGA just hours before the start of Dawg Night.

Nabulsi: Insider Images from Dawg Night.

Corey Long writes: Insider Sunshine State players turned out for UGA’s Dawg Night event.

DawgNation links: Herschel's nephew

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
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Radi Nabulsi writes Insider: While he doesn't feel that his legendary uncle, Herschel Walker, is much of an influence on his budding football career, 2014 RB and potential UGA target Milan Richard is shaping up to be as much of a head-turner in the backfield.

David Ching writes Insider: Around the Hedges in 80 Days -- Receiver Chris Conley should be fully recovered from offseason wrist surgery when preseason camp begins, and he’ll face plenty of stiff competition.

DawgNation on the Radio: Listen

Fans pick Newton's 2010 season No. 1

June, 11, 2012
6/11/12
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With nearly 10,000 votes cast, the fans have spoken: Auburn's Cam Newton engineered the greatest individual season in the SEC over the last 50 years.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIREAuburn QB Cam Newton takes the title as the leader of the greatest individual season in the SEC.
Newton, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2010 and led the Tigers to a 14-0 record and national championship that season, received 36 percent of the vote in our SportsNation poll. Georgia's Herschel Walker was second with 27 percent of the vote. Walker had three great seasons in college, but the one we selected as his best was his freshman season in 1980 when he rushed for 1,616 yards and led the Bulldogs to a national title.

It's been a close race for third place. Currently, Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas is ahead of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. Thomas, who had 27 sacks in 1988, garnered 18 percent of the vote, while Tebow collected 17 percent of the vote. Tebow became the first FBS player in history to rush for 20 touchdowns and pass for 20 touchdowns in the same season in 2007.

I included an "other" category in this most recent poll, but it doesn't sound like fans believe there were any glaring omissions among the candidates listed.

I also picked Newton, and while Walker remains an almost mythical figure in this league, it's hard to top what Newton did for his team during that 2010 national championship season. Without Newton, I think the Tigers would have lost at least three games.

He was the essence of a difference-maker that season, and I don't think we'll ever see a quarterback lead the SEC in rushing again and also finish second nationally in passing efficiency that same season.
Now it's your turn.

On Monday, I ranked the top five individual performances in the SEC over the past 50 years, and Cam Newton's 2010 season edged out Tim Tebow's 2007 season. They both won the Heisman Trophy. They both put up record-setting numbers, and they both were outstanding leaders. The difference was that Newton led his team to a 14-0 record and national championship in 2010, which gave him the nod.

SportsNation

Which SEC player has produced the greatest individual season over the last 50 years?

  •  
    27%
  •  
    4%
  •  
    36%
  •  
    16%
  •  
    17%

Discuss (Total votes: 9,691)

Did I get it right? Better yet, is there somebody else out there who deserves to be in that top spot?

I listed four choices. Along with Newton in 2010 and Tebow in 2007, I also included Georgia running back Herschel Walker's 1980 season and Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas' 1988 season. Walker had three brilliant seasons at Georgia. The Bulldogs won the national championship during his freshman season in 1980. He had his most rushing yards (1,891) in a season as a sophomore in 1981, and he won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 1982.

Thomas, who died in 2000, racked up an incredible 27 sacks during his 1988 season at Alabama and remains one of the most feared pass-rushers to ever play the game.

I've also included an "other" category. I listed 10 other memorable seasons on Monday that just missed the cut. Perhaps one of those players deserves more love. And then again, maybe there's somebody else out there that I've yet to mention. I'm sure you guys will let me know.

Go ahead and vote in our SportsNation poll, and we'll take a look at the results later this week.

Keep in mind that this is the greatest individual season over the past 50 years and not all-time.

SEC's top individual seasons

June, 4, 2012
6/04/12
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When I start searching my memory bank for the best individual seasons of the past 50 years in the SEC, I don't have to go back very far to come up with at least two that rank up there with any in college football history.

But like any other ranking in the SEC, coming up with the top five individual seasons is one tough chore.

Here goes:

1. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn, 2010: Granted, it was only one season. But what a season it was on the Plains for Newton and the Tigers. Newton, who came over from junior college after starting his career at Florida, guided Auburn to a 14-0 record and the school's first national championship in 53 years. He was unstoppable as a runner and equally dynamic as a passer, accounting for 51 touchdowns. The runaway winner of the 2010 Heisman Trophy, Newton was second nationally in passing efficiency (182.05) and led all SEC players in rushing with 1,473 yards. In short, it was about as close as it gets to being a perfect season.

2. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida, 2007: Tebow's sophomore season was his best statistically, even though the Gators didn't win a national title that year. He became the first quarterback in FBS history to pass for 20 touchdowns and rush for 20 touchdowns in the same season. Tebow finished with 32 passing touchdowns and 23 rushing touchdowns in becoming the first sophomore in history to win the Heisman Trophy. Not known for his passing prowess, Tebow threw for 3,286 yards and only six interceptions that season. He also rushed for 895 yards and was the Gators' go-to guy any time they got near the goal line.

[+] EnlargeHerschel Walker
Getty ImagesHerschel Walker rushed for 1,616 yards during the 1980 season, leading the Bulldogs to a 12-0 record and national championship.
3. Herschel Walker, RB, Georgia, 1980: Even though Walker won his Heisman Trophy in 1982, it was his freshman season in 1980 that everyone remembers. It remains almost mythical with the way he burst onto the scene in the second half of the opener that year against Tennessee and ran over Bill Bates at the goal line. He rushed for 1,616 yards that season in leading the Bulldogs to a 12-0 record and national championship. In a lot of ways, Walker was the first of his kind, a 225-pound bruiser who had track speed. To this day, many consider him to be the SEC's greatest player.

4. Derrick Thomas, OLB, Alabama, 1988: When you start talking about pure stats and gaudy numbers, it's hard to top what Thomas accomplished during the 1988 season. He set an SEC record with 39 tackles for loss, including an NCAA record 27 sacks. Thomas, who died in 2000, also had an incredible 45 quarterback hurries that season. He completely took over the Penn State game with three sacks and a safety, and to this day he remains the standard for rushing the passer in this league. Former Alabama coach Bill Curry called him the "best football player I ever coached."

5. Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida, 1996: Never fully satisfied with the way his quarterbacks perform, Steve Spurrier came close in 1996. Wuerffel was brilliant that season in leading the Gators to a national championship. He finished with 3,625 passing yards and 39 touchdown passes on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. His accuracy and ability to put the ball in places his receivers could turn short gains into touchdowns made him one of the Head Ball Coach's favorites. "Danny Wonderful" didn't have an exceptionally strong arm but always knew where to go with the football.

Lunchtime links

March, 19, 2012
3/19/12
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The madness of March continues later in the week, so you can take some time to check out what's going on around the SEC.

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