Bulldogs' four-legged beast

Georgia's freshman running back tandem of Keith Marshall, left, and Todd Gurley won't be a surprise to the South Carolina defense as the two have combined for 14 touchdowns this season. (Photos by The Associated Press/Photo illustration by Adam West)

Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 11:16 p.m.

In typical Steve Spurrier fashion, South Carolina's coach took a jab at Georgia this past summer.

The Head Ball Coach said moving the annual game between the SEC East teams from early September to October would help the Bulldogs because they usually have a couple of key players suspended for offseason mishaps.

The poke didn't surprise Georgia coach Mark Richt.

“I think that's funny,” Richt said. “That sounds like Steve.”

Surprises on the field won't come easy anymore either with the game being pushed back a month. The teams hadn't played any later than Sept. 14 since South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992, meeting in the second game most of the time.

After five games, it's too late for Georgia freshman running backs Todd Gurley or Keith Marshall to catch the Gamecocks off guard in the same way Marcus Lattimore unleashed himself on the Dawgs as a freshman in 2010.

Lattimore had 37 carries for 182 yards and two scores to beat Georgia 17-6 in Week 2 to jumpstart USC to the East title.

“Freshman running backs have proven they can come in and play well,” Spurrier said on Wednesday. “Obviously, Marcus Lattimore two years ago was sensational, and their two guys are sensational also. They can go the distance. They got two good ones, they use both of them and we've got to stop them or slow them down if we're going to have a chance Saturday night.”

The Bulldogs' duo has combined for 964 rushing yards and 14 TDs in five games. Gurley is the SEC's leading rusher with 536 yards and 100-yard games in all but one contest. Meanwhile, Marshall has gone for 428 yards and 8.2 yards a carry.

Not bad for a couple of players who were looking up at Isaiah Crowell on the depth chart before he was dismissed from the team in late June.

“Their roles are probably a little bit bigger than they thought it would be when they first signed with Georgia,” Richt said. “But they've earned it and we're glad we got them.”

While Georgia's freshman phenoms are off to a blistering start, Lattimore — who's gashed UGA for 358 yards on 64 carries and three scores in two games — is trying to get back to full speed after tearing his ACL a year ago. His 120 rushing yards against Kentucky's porous run defense last week is his best game of the year so far.

The Gamecocks will need Lattimore at his best to keep up with the Bulldogs, who boast the best offense in the SEC. Georgia has scored 40 or more points in every game this season and has scored 31 touchdowns, seven more than the next best team in the league (Tennessee, 24).

However, quarterback Aaron Murray did lose his top receiver for the season after sophomore Michael Bennett went down with a freak ACL injury on the last play of Tuesday's practice.

Bennett led the team in catches (24), receiving yards (345) and touchdowns (4). Richt was emotional on Wednesday as he described the accidental injury.

Nonetheless, Georgia's offense is deep. Senior wideouts Tavarres King and Marlon Brown will be asked to step up as will sophomore Malcolm Mitchell, who's been playing cornerback.

If South Carolina is going to beat Georgia a third straight time, which hasn't happened since the team's rivalry began in 1894, Spurrier knows he needs a big game from his defense.

“They're very good players, got a good offensive line, got a good scheme of things. They can throw the ball also, so they're not just one-dimensional,” Spurrier said. “When you can do both, you give defenses problems.”

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