Todd Gurley or TJ Yeldon; TJ Yeldon or Todd Gurley: it’s a debate college football fans can expect for at least the next three years, and perhaps marks the return of the running back.
Georgia Bulldog Todd Gurley and Alabama’s TJ Yeldon are just three games into their respective college careers, but each freshman running back is carrying the ball with speed, strength and savvy of SEC seasoned veterans. Each will play an integral role in his team’s pursuit of the conference championship — and since it is the SEC, that means pursuing the BCS championship by default.
But these explosive rushers are more than just interchangeable parts plugged into their offenses. Gurley has eclipsed 100 yards already twice, and has four touchdowns on the season. Through three games, his lowest yard per carry output is 6.5. Yeldon’s been called on to do less, but that doesn’t mean he’s delivered less. He has a pair of touchdowns, and his lowest yard per carry outing is 6.4.
The immediacy with which each has integrated proves the importance of recruiting. Yes, recruiting is a gamble. Gurley’s getting the ball so soon after first donning the red-and-silver is evidence to this fact, because he filled a vacancy Isaiah Crowell left. Crowell was as ballyhooed a prospect as any in recent years, but derailed by off-field issues.
Recruiting is calculated gamble, though. Mark Richt had one celebrated recruit in Crowell, but found another in Gurley. When Crowell didn’t pan out, a back-up plan was in place. The transition at tailback wasn’t seamless – it was better than that. Georgia upgraded with Gurley becoming the feature back. A true freshman having such instant impact exhibits how vital victory on the recruiting trail truly is.
Then again, Nick Saban’s been demonstrating it for years. Who else can lose a Heisman Trophy winner and a Heisman finalist in back-to-back years, at the same position, and arguably upgrade? Saban has a cache of running backs around which the Tide’s old school yet potent offense is built.
That might make Yeldon seem expendable, but that’s hardly the case. Yeldon’s presence makes Alabama even more dangerous this season than last, which culminated in the BCS championship. Yeldon is on pace to far exceed Eddie Lacy’s production of a season ago as the No. 2, but more significantly he’s emerged as a dynamic pass catching option.
Alabama is exhibiting a more refined passing attack with AJ McCarron, a trend that began in January’s national title game. Yeldon is a significant contributor to Doug Nussmeier’s approach, having caught six passes for 91 yards.
There’s been no transitional period for either, and as a result each is a vital cog in his offense. Should the Tide and Bulldogs meet in Atlanta for the SEC title, their contributions should change some narratives.
There’s been plenty of talk at both the pro and college levels recently about the running back being an antiquated position – at least, the star running back. Sure, every offense must establish the rush to supplement the pass, but it’s become largely that: supplementary.
Alabama has been a notable exception, which makes Yeldon’s emergence somewhat less wowing. But Georgia was a team that entered 2012 with all the focus on its quarterback, Aaron Murray. Gurley brings a dimension to the Bulldog attack that, while aiding Murray’s passing, isn’t just supplementary.
The importance of a star running back becomes more evident with every win teams effectively using theirs piles up. And unfortunately for the rest of the SEC, these two star running backs have a lot of time left to wreak havoc.