Big games this week­end for Ge­or­gia, Ge­or­gia Tech

Ledger-Enquirer - - Front page - BY PAUL NEW­BERRY

When Eli­jah Holy­field was pon­der­ing where he wanted to go to col­lege, he cer­tainly took an in­ter­est in his­tory.

Specif­i­cally, Ge­or­gia’s long lin­eage of great run­ning backs.

“It was a very big deal to me. I’ve watched Ge­or­gia foot­ball for a long time and I’ve re­ally loved all the Ge­or­gia backs,” said Holy­field, son of for­mer heavy­weight cham­pion Evan­der Holy­field. “It had a lot to do with my de­ci­sion.”

From Her­schel Walker through the 1-2 punch of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the No. 5 Bull­dogs might as well be known as Run­ning Back U.

They’re liv­ing up to rep­u­ta­tion again with the cur­rent back­field duo of Holy­field and D’An­dre Swift.

In last week’s pul­ver­iz­ing 34-17 vic­tory over Ken­tucky , which locked up Ge­or­gia’s spot in the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game, Swift rushed for 156 yards and two touch­downs, Holy­field tacked on a ca­reer-best 115 yards and a score, and the Bull­dogs fin­ished with a sea­son-high 331 yards on the ground against one of the na­tion’s top-ranked de­fenses.

Ge­or­gia (8-1, 6-1, No. 5 CFP) leads the SEC in rush­ing (233.8 yards per game), car­ry­ing on a tra­di­tion that goes back as far as 1942 Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner Frank Sinkwich but re­ally picked up steam with the ar­rival of Her­schel Walker.

Walker, who capped his bril­liant ca­reer by cap­tur­ing the Heis­man in 1982, is still rec­og­nized as the great­est back in school his­tory. But he’s had plenty of chal­lengers over past 31⁄ decades.

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Since Walker left school a year early to play in the ill-fated United States Foot­ball League, seven Ge­or­gia run­ning backs have been picked in the first round of the NFL draft – an es­teemed list that doesn’t even in­clude Ter­rell Davis, who was only a sixth-rounder but went on to a Hall of Fame ca­reer with the Den­ver Bron­cos.

More re­cently, Ge­or­gia’s pipe­line has grown to in­clude Todd Gur­ley, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb – who ac­tu­ally were on the same team in 2014 and are all now thriv­ing in the NFL. Gur­ley stars for the Los An­ge­les Rams , earn­ing All-Pro honors in 2017 and lead­ing the league in rush­ing this sea­son. Michel is start­ing for the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots as a rookie, while Chubb is get­ting sig­nif­i­cant play­ing time with the Cleve­land Browns.

Coach Kirby Smart cer­tainly re­lies on that her­itage when he’s try­ing to per­suade a high school run­ning back to sign with the Bull­dogs.

“I think it helps tremen­dously to have the guys, the his­tory of Robert Ed­wards, Gar­ri­son Hearst, Ter­rell Davis, I mean Her­schel, just back af­ter back af­ter back af­ter back,” Smart said. “Now it’s prob­a­bly more prom­i­nent than it’s ever been be­cause of the stage that Todd is on and what he’s been able to do, and Nick and Sony’s ex­po­sure last year through the na­tional cham­pi­onship game.

What does the coach tell prospec­tive backs who are con­sid­er­ing Ge­or­gia?

“If you’re a pre­mier back in the coun­try and you say, ‘I want to go some­where that I can learn to play in a pro style, catch the ball in the back­field, and I also want to be able to pro­tect so that I can in­crease my value, and I also want to have dura­bil­ity where I’m not go­ing to be beat up when I come out of there,’ there’s nowhere bet­ter to go,” Smart replied.

In­deed, Ge­or­gia has re­lied on an abun­dance of tal­ented run­ning backs the last few sea­sons.

Pre­vi­ous coach Mark Richt was able to land Gur­ley and Keith Mar­shall in the same re­cruit­ing class – they were dubbed “Gur-

‘‘ I THINK IT HELPS TREMEN­DOUSLY TO HAVE THE GUYS, THE HIS­TORY OF ROBERT ED­WARDS, GAR­RI­SON HEARST, TER­RELL DAVIS, I MEAN HER­SCHEL, JUST BACK AF­TER BACK AF­TER BACK AF­TER BACK. Ge­or­gia coach Kirby Smart

shall” in a nod to Walker – though Mar­shall never re­al­ized his full po­ten­tial be­cause of in­juries. Richt pulled off an­other dou­ble­coup when he landed Chubb and Michel.

Holy­field, a ju­nior, signed with the Bull­dogs even though he knew he’d spend at least one sea­son play­ing be­hind Chubb and Michel (and it wound up be­ing two when both stayed through their full el­i­gi­bil­ity). Swift came aboard last sea­son, even with all those tal­ented backs on the ros­ter. Zamir White, touted as the na­tion’s top prospects, signed with Ge­or­gia com­ing into this sea­son but was side­lined by a knee in­jury.

Holy­field said the com­pe­ti­tion for play­ing time makes ev­ery­one bet­ter. He leads the Bull­dogs with 674 yards rush­ing, but Swift, who has bat­tled in­juries and fi­nally seems to be at full strength, has gained 622 yards. Swift has also been an ef­fec­tive weapon in the pass­ing game with 17 re­cep­tions for 161 yards.

“When you have some­body who’s just as good as you play­ing next to you, it pushes you ev­ery sin­gle day,” Holy­field said. “I know I can’t take a day off be­cause he’s not go­ing to take a day off.”

Ge­or­gia faces Auburn (6-3, 3-3) on Satur­day in the 122nd re­newal of the Deep South’s old­est ri­valry.

The Tigers cer­tainly know what they’re up against.

“Swift and Holy­field kind of re­sem­ble the backs they’ve had in the past,” de­fen­sive tackle Don­tavius Rus­sell said. “It’s al­ways a chal­lenge.”

JOHN BAZEMORE AP

Ge­or­gia run­ning back Eli­jah Holy­field (13) breaks through the Mid­dle Ten­nessee de­fense for a big gain on Sept. 15. The Bull­dogs have pro­duced dy­namic run­ning backs over the years, from Her­schel Walker to Todd Gur­ley, and the trend con­tin­ues this sea­son with Holy­field and D’An­dre Swift.

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