When #2 Alabama goes to war with #3 Georgia Saturday for the right to hoist the SEC hardware in the country’s national semifinal, we’ll witness four big-time talents at running back, and three of them are freshmen. We’ll be reminded of just how potent these two teams’ running games will be for years to come.
Alabama features junior Eddie Lacy, who has rushed for 1,001 yards and 14 touchdowns, and freshman TJ Yeldon, who boasts 847 yards and 10 touchdowns. Both guys combine for an average of 6.31 yards per carry. Lacy epitomizes the circle button spin move and toughness. He runs between the tackles with ease, and he’s been a bigger part of the offense and the horse Bama has leaned on down the stretch. Yeldon, on the other hand, has more upside with his rare combination of speed, size and power. The one-time Auburn commit is a major reason Bama’s running game has been a dominant one-two punch for much of the year.
But while Lacy and Yeldon are striking, the offensive line is a massive part of the equation. With four returning starters, we knew this group would maul opposing defensive fronts. The Tide average over 214 yards on the ground per game, good for second in the SEC, and they will look to enforce their will upon the Georgia front seven.
Georgia, on the other hand, features two freshmen leading the charge in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. The Bulldogs enter #4 in the SEC in rushing, averaging over 190 yards per game. There were many questions after Isaiah Crowell’s dismissal, and this group has exceeded expectations.
The more talented of the two backs is no doubt Todd Gurley. In fact, Gurley is the most talented back in the SEC in his first year. In fact, he may end up being better than Trent Richardson. (Did I just say that?) He leads the SEC in rushing with 1,138 yards and 14 touchdowns. Marshall has tallied 69 less carries than Gurley with 720 yards and eight touchdowns. Gurley is not only a bruiser that can run into the teeth of the defense and deliver a blow, but he also has burner speed in the open field. Marshall is more a speed back, and he can create mismatches on the edge with his elite speed. Both are utterly important to their team.
Of course, neither running game will be clicking if not for some offensive balance provided by the passing game.
But which teams’ running game actually gives them the better chance to win?
Georgia may have the best running back in Gurley, but Alabama has the better running game because of Lacy’s experience and the Tide’s road-grading offensive line. It’s not that Georgia’s offensive line is bad, they’re just not as good as Bama’s. But you have to tip your hat to UGA’s line for surpassing preseason expectations.
If we’re just talking running backs alone, I’ll take Gurley over the rest of the three. But unfortunately, it takes more than just talented backs to make up an offensively bruising running game. And that’s where Bama’s offensive line may give them the edge on the ground. Expect Saban to lean on Lacy because Yeldon was a small liability against LSU and Texas A&M, seeing that he put it on the ground once in each game.
With that being said, both teams’ set of backs can house one on any given play, and that’s what makes both teams so dangerous and explosive on offense.
Photo Credit: Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE