Gurley, Marshall almost picked CU
Both went down to wire
CLEMSON – The big recruit announcements often aren’t much of a surprise at all, says Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
In the 2012 class, Swinney had a pretty good feeling that he’d land one between N.C. tailback products Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.
In the national ranks, Marshall was the No. 1-rated running back and Gurley was as high as No. 5 – also friends as dueling Tar Heel State track stars.
From almost off the radar, the Tigers landed an official visit from the top-ranked prospect Marshall along with Gurley in late November of 2011, and by the trip’s end, both had the Tigers at the top of the list going into their announcements.
First up was Marshall – four days after Clemson secured its first conference title in 20 years.
“Marshall broke our heart,” Swinney said. “I think maybe he went to bed that night and maybe he was coming to Clemson and had a bad dream or something I don’t know.”
Marshall confirmed as much recently to Georgia reporters.
“To be honest with you, the night before (my commitment) I was going to Clemson,” Marshall said. “When I woke up in the morning I knew I couldn’t go to Clemson. It didn’t feel right in my heart…It’s a great place, great coaches, great people but I knew Georgia was the place I loved, so I had to come here.”
Alright, one down, but Swinney was confident he had Gurley, yet he didn’t quite have the confirmation he would have liked going in. On the announcement day, he noticed he had a call from none other than Georgia coach Mark Richt.
“He’s going to announce later that day and there’s still some hope,” Swinney said, “and I actually got a call from Mark Richt that day. I can’t remember what he was calling me about, but I was like, huh, what’s going on here.”
With the time ticking on a 2 o’clock Gurley press conference, the Tigers coach told himself he wasn’t going bring it up, but something about Richt’s demeanor gave him all the indication he needed.
“He’s on the treadmill and I’m like, ‘Well, I guess you’re not real worried about this announcement coming at 2,’” Swinney said. “So I kind of knew right then that we’re not getting him. He said something like, ‘Well, you never know.’ I knew right then we’re not getting him.
“I’m thinking how in the world did they get these great two backs.”
The rest is history – the duo accounting for 84 percent of the Bulldogs’ rushing yards last season, Gurley taking first team national and conference freshman honors and Marshall busting off three touchdown runs of 60-plus yards in SEC play, averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
“You have to give (Georgia) credit that they did a great job of recruiting them the right way and that’s just where they felt most comfortable,” Swinney said. “They are just two talented, dynamic backs and they’re going to be a handful Saturday night.”
Another freshman getting nickelback nod: Travis Blanks worked out alright last season. Korrin Wiggins gets his shot this year, starting Saturday night.
Blanks played 563 snaps at nickelback as an early-enrollee freshman. The Tallahassee, Fla. native totaled 51 tackles (two for loss), picked off a Zach Mettenberger pass in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and broke up seven more over the course of the season.
Tigers get another shot at top SEC team
Wiggins, an Associated Press all-N.C. safety at Hillside (N.C.), didn’t have the spring to work with the team, but came in with just what Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is looking for at the hybrid nickel spot.
“He doesn’t get real overwhelmed,” Venables said. “He loves to compete and he’s in his comfort zone. He has good football instincts. He’s done well with what we’ve asked him to do.
“He’s what I call a ball magnet. He’s always around the ball on the pass.”
The challenge is the offense in game one, which is armed with a veteran QB (Aaron Murray) and a bevy of receivers that can take advantage of any misstep.
“Obviously he doesn’t have a lot of experience,” said Venables. “Because of the precision of the game, that’s what you’re concerned (for), but not necessarily the stage. Some guys you get them through practice and you get them in the scrimmage and they don’t look so good…For him, I haven’t sensed that yet.”
Injury update: Swinney said Wednesday freshman safety Jayron Kearse (shoulder) is back in practice and “set to go” after missing time last week. Freshman tight end Jordan Leggett (knee) has also returned and could play on an as-needed basis.