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Clemson coach regrets losing Gurley, Marshall

Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley is a native of North Carolina and was recruited heavily by both Clemson and Georgia, but when the Bulldogs and Tigers face off tonight the running back will be wearing the red and black of UGA. (Reuters News Service)

Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley is a native of North Carolina and was recruited heavily by both Clemson and Georgia, but when the Bulldogs and Tigers face off tonight the running back will be wearing the red and black of UGA. (Reuters News Service)

ATHENS — One of the only clear edges Georgia has in Saturday’s matchup against Clemson is the running game. But if not for a narrow recruiting victory by the Bulldogs, it easily could be the Tigers touting that advantage.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters at his news conference this week he was sure the Tigers were going to land both Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. In the end the North Carolina residents both chose the Bulldogs. A combined 2,595 yards and 27 touchdowns later, the check in the running back column for Georgia.

“You’ve got to give them credit,” Swinney said. “They did a great job of recruiting them the right way. That’s where they felt most comfortable. Two really talented, dynamic backs that will be a hand full on Saturday night.”

Marshall, a five-star prospect from Raleigh, went to bed the night before his announcement sure he was going to commit to Clemson. But after a fitful night of dreams, he woke up and knew for certain he wanted to go to Georgia and said so publicly a short time later.

About a month later Swinney was convinced Clemson was going to get Gurley. He said he called Richt shortly before Gurley’s 2 p.m. announcement.

“He’s on the treadmill, and so I thought he wasn’t real worried about this announcement coming up,” Swinney said. “I kind of knew right then that we were not getting him. He said something like, ‘Well, you never know. You think you know, but you never know.’ I knew right then that we weren’t getting him. I remember hanging up the phone and saying, ‘we’re not getting Gurley.’ I was like, ‘How in the world did they get both those great backs.’”

Richt could not recall the conversation with Swinney the day Gurley committed. “I’m 53 years old, you know,” he said with a laugh. But, he allowed, “I don’t know what we would’ve looked like last year without them.”

Gurley said his decision, which was actually between Georgia, Clemson and North Carolina, “wasn’t that tough. I prayed on it, considered the pros and cons and just decided.”

Marshall said his decision might have had an effect on where Gurley went. He spent much of his time after choosing the Bulldogs urging Gurley to do the same.

“At one point, we were close to going there,” Marshall said of Clemson.

Meanwhile, Marshall insists the intense recruitment he received from the Tigers won’t provide any more incentive to beat them.

“That was two years ago,” he said. “It really has no bearing on this game.”

Some may beg to differ.

J.J. GREEN MAY PLAY: Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo wouldn’t discuss who would be Georgia’s third tailback against Clemson, but Richt didn’t hesitate when asked the same thing Wednesday.

“J.J. (Green) is No. 3,” he said of the freshman. “I mean, the other two guys that were pushing him were (A.J.) Turman and (Brendan) Douglas (each a freshman), and they’ve been hurt (with ankle and knee sprains).”

Being third string means playing time. “I’d think that at least three tailbacks will get into the game,” Richt said.

LONG WAIT: Georgia-Clemson won’t kick off until 8:20 p.m. Saturday, so the Bulldogs will have a whole day to kill in their hotel. A voluntary breakfast will be held in the morning, a mandatory team lunch around noon, then some early-afternoon position meetings and walk-throughs will precede a team dinner. But mostly it will be a lot of down time.

Richt said the Bulldogs would not discourage players from watching the ESPN “College Gameday” broadcast or tell them to steer clear of any of the pregame hype. “I’m not going to be the television police,” he said.

PRACTICE UPDATE: Georgia held a noisy 90-minute workout in jerseys, shorts and helmets Wednesday. For the first time in the preseason, the Bulldogs practiced surrounded by speakers blaring music and crowd noise.

“Tomorrow we’ll do it again, in the stadium this time, and crank up the noise even louder and try to get used to it,” Richt said. “The good news is (quarterback Aaron) Murray has been through a lot of games like that and knows how to communicate like that. Most of our offensive players have lived through it, too, so it shouldn’t come as much of a shock.”

ETC.: Richt said he expects freshman wideout Reggie Davis to play. He also said not to be surprised if walk-on Kenny Towns gets some action. The 6-foot-3, 201-pound redshirt freshman has worked extensively with the varsity players while Rhett McGowan (ankle), Jonathan Rumph (hamstring) and Rantavious Wooten (hamstring) were sidelined with injuries.