ATHENS – Keith Marshall is running third string at tailback and currently gets most of his action as a member of Georgia’s kickoff coverage team. But don’t take that as a sign that the former 5-star recruiting prospect is not as good of a football player as he once was.
On the contrary. According to Marshall, he’s just as fast right now as he was before his ACL injury in 2013 and physically just as fit.
Nevertheless, the 5-foot-11, 212-pound Marshall finds himself in a place he never thought he’d be: Behind two other players on the Bulldogs’ depth chart.
“It’s been different,” said Marshall, a junior who is currently playing behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. “Obviously those guys are very special players, but it takes a whole group. … It’s a long season and I’m still working hard, so when my opportunity comes I’ll be ready for it.”
Actually, Marshall has gotten more opportunities than most third-teamers. He has rushed for 107 yards on 19 carries in three games and is third on the team with three touchdowns.
But those have come mostly late in games as the Bulldogs have won their first three contests by an average margin of 28.6 points. And that’s the way it will stay as long as Chubb and Michel remain healthy.
Chubb is a Heisman Trophy candidate who averages 156 yards rushing per game and currently leads the SEC at 8.4 yards per carry. Michel has a team-best five touchdowns and 96.3 all-purpose yards per game. Former 5-star prospects themselves, they are well-entrenched as the Bulldogs’ featured tailbacks this season. And with Greyson Lambert and Georgia’s receivers throwing-and-catching the way they have been lately, there are only so many opportunities to go around.
With this arrangement, everybody seems comfortable.
“He’s kind of accepted the role that he plays; I think we all have accepted the role that we play,” Michel said. “It’s really a team thing. We’ve been winning so really nobody should be complaining at this point.”
Said Chubb: “We’re all very close. We know we have to compete here at Georgia because we know they’re going to play the best. We all touch the field a lot. It’s not a matter of whether we get an equal amount of reps and we all understand that. We’ve all been through it in some way. It doesn’t really bother us at all. We’re all cheering for each other in a positive way.”
But as has been proven time and again in the SEC and major college football in general, it’s rare to get through a season injury free at the skill seasons. That’s especially true for tailbacks in a run-first scheme such as Georgia employs.
It was when he was thrust into a starter’s role after Todd Gurley’s injury that Marshall was injured himself against Tennessee in 2013. The Bulldogs utilized five tailbacks both that season and last.
So it is with that knowledge that Marshall has accepted his role. He’s biding his time now but knows he’ll be counted on to carry a heavier load down the road, if needed.
“Obviously you always want as many opportunities as possible,” said Marshall, who had 759 yards and averaged 6.5 yards per carry as a freshman in 2012. “But you have to be prepared for it when those opportunities come. So that’s all I can focus on right now, making sure I’m ready when they come.
It’s quite likely that Marshall, along with fellow reserve Brendan Douglas, could find himself with an increased workload this Saturday against Southern University. With a matchup against Alabama looming nest week, the Bulldogs will surely get Chubb and Michel to the sidelines as soon as possible. And Georgia goes deeper still at the position.
Meanwhile, Marshall also gets work on special teams both in coverage and as a kick returner.
“He’s really shown up every day and worked hard,” coach Mark Richt said. “He’s had a good attitude. … I think whatever role we’re asking him to play, he’s playing it and playing it to the best of his ability. I haven’t seen any bad body language in practice or anything like that. He’s been a very good teammate.”
And when Marshall does come into the game at tailback, the Georgia fans usually take notice. Knowing what Marshall has been through with injuries the last two seasons, he has become a crowd favorite.
“It’s awesome,” said Marshall, who said he has heard the ovations. “I mean, for some reason fans really support me and love me and I’m really thankful for that.”