An explosive Georgia offense that made more than its share of big plays last season is adding another dimension this year: the threats out of the backfield for Aaron Murray in the passing game.
Consider that tailback Keith Marshall and fullback Quayvon Hicks each already have longer receptions in only two games than any Georgia running back since 2003.
Digest the fact that when Marshall and Todd Gurley scored on touchdown catches in a 41-30 win over South Carolina on Sept. 7, it was the first time two Georgia tailbacks had done that in the same game since Patrick Pass and Robert Edwards in 1997.
‚ÄúThat was a thing we worked on this offseason and the summer,‚Äù said Hicks, who has two receptions for 61 yards. ‚ÄúMurray, he‚Äôs always looking for the big play. Coach has been telling him, ‚ÄòIf you don‚Äôt have anything, look for the backs.‚Äô‚Äù
Marshall already has nearly matched his receiving yards total from last year.
He has four catches for 82 yards after having 11 for 91 last season.
‚ÄúJust trying to take advantage of another weapon,‚Äù offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. ‚ÄúSometimes if you don‚Äôt use those guys then they can ease off them if they are covering them and add up on the blitz or play more zone and not worry about your checkdown.‚Äù
Georgia already has eight catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns in two games from its running backs this year after having 32 catches for 242 yards and a touchdown last season in 14 games. Gurley accounted for 16 of those catches in 2012.
The Bulldogs have had success incorporating tailbacks in the passing game before. Knowshon Moreno had 33 catches for 392 yards and two touchdowns in 2008 and 20 catches for 253 yards in 2007.
Murray can do an even better job of hitting the backs in the passing game, Bobo said.
‚ÄúWe kind of directed it some to them (against South Carolina), but even in the first game in the loss, the checkdown to Keith who was like the third progression right before that last touchdown was good to see. We‚Äôve done a lot of that in camp and it‚Äôs translated a little bit in the first two ballgames but hopefully you‚Äôll see more of that of finding the backs as second and third progressions or where they‚Äôre primary receivers.‚Äù
Against South Carolina, Murray dumped a screen pass off to Marshall and left tackle Kenarious Gates knocked Chris Moody off his feet with a cut block. Marshall outraced cornerback Ahmad Christian to the end zone for the 6-yard touchdown.
‚ÄúKeith with his speed, you get Keith in the open field, no one‚Äôs catching him,‚Äù Murray said.
Marshall actually was caught on a 48-yard pass play against the Gamecocks, but not before he had the longest reception for a Georgia running back since Tyson Browning‚Äôs 93-yard touchdown against LSU in 2003.
‚ÄúI enjoy every chance you get to make a play and get a ball,‚Äù Marshall said. ‚ÄúI enjoy every opportunity.‚Äù
The 6-foot-2, 265-pound Hicks has catches of 38 and 23 yards this season.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think anyone wants to tackle him in an open space,‚Äù Murray said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs a lot of man coming at you full speed.‚Äù
Defenses knew all about Gurley and Marshall coming at them last season, but Bobo said they had a lot to handle as freshmen in recognizing formations and dealing with pass protection. The passing game is the next step.
‚ÄúThat was a goal to improve in their game this year,‚Äù Bobo said. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôve both got very good hands, they‚Äôve got good speed and good body control. Just trying to take advantage of another weapon.‚Äù