The appointment between LSU’s Jeremy Hill and Georgia’s Todd Gurley has been set, and the venue of Sanford Stadium is lined up.
The exact time, though, remains in question.
What is certain is the meeting will unfold as others in the past between foes who openly pay mutual respect to their abilities.
Padded up, two of the Southeastern Conference’s elite running backs will take a fleeting moment during pregame warmups to pass along pleasantries before the No. 6 Tigers (4-0, 2-0) tangle with the No. 9 Bulldogs (2-1, 1-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
“I’ll probably talk to him,” said Hill, who is coming of a 183-yard, three-touchdown outing against Auburn. “Just holler at him.”
A crowd of more than 92,700 filing into their seats likely won’t notice — fitting considering the hyped return of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger to face the program that practically reared him and then shunned him in 2010.
A pity, too, that watching two backs possessing the optimal blend of acceleration, one-cut quickness and keen vision has taken a back seat. But the admiration between Hill and Gurley is fitting for a build-up that has been, well, polite and cordial.
Gurley reached out to compliment Hill after the Tigers’ 45-13 drubbing of Kent State along “with a few other kids from the Georgia team,” Hill said. As for the details, Hill didn’t offer a blow-by-blow of the conversations.
“It’s just respect, man,” he said.
It also leaves Hill leery to let another storyline get traction — a grudge match between two of the nation’s best ball carriers.
“I try not to get involved with those things,” he said. “I just go out and work hard like I do every week and let everything else take care of itself.”
How their carbon-copy styles will be used, though, diverges.
LSU’s revamped offense, the one putting up 480.2 yards per game but only ranked No. 6 in the suddenly Fun ’n’ Gun SEC, mashes the pedal through the floorboard on scoring drives. Under the direction of coordinator Cam Cameron, the Tigers’ average march for points is a trot: 2 minutes, 33.47 seconds to cover 58 yards and almost 10 yards per snap.
As risk averse as head coach Les Miles might be, he said Monday there’s no point in downshifting when the points are piling up.
Still, Hill, who is third in the SEC at 117 yards per game, can allow LSU to at least bleed clock when necessary to keep Georgia — an offense putting up 574 yards and 40 points per game — off the field. Then again, we have seen how LSU’s effort to run out the fourth quarter produced three-and-outs, too.
“We’re going to do the things we do,” Miles said. “It’s just that simple. We need to sustain long drives. We want to keep the ball. But we’re also going to take our shots. We’re going to use our balance to our advantage.”
Since Hill’s return against UAB, when his first carry was a 3-yard touchdown run, Miles’ critiques have been tempered.
First, it was that Hill needed to regain fitness after a four-month suspension in the wake of an April assault at a Baton Rouge bar — a misdemeanor charge Hill pleaded guilty to — and a reinstatement in August. Next, the assessment, coming after 117-yard, two-touchdown night against Kent State, was that Hill needed to clean up his cuts and vision.
Well, coach and player have ditched those talking points.
“I’ll just continue to get my body in game shape and ready to go,” Hill said. “Stamina-wise, I’ll be fine. It’s just fine-tuning little things every day.”
Now it’s a matter of whether Hill is ready to handle the pounding that comes with 20-plus carries per game — a workload he coyly ducked by saying he expects.
Gurley has softened defenses to open up play-action passing and relieve the stress on Aaron Murray, who has 1,040 yards and seven touchdowns on a modest 59-of-82 passing; Georgia is running the ball on 62.2 percent of its plays. Stymieing Gurley, who is putting up 125.7 yards per game, puts the onus on Murray, whose 2-7 record against top-10 teams is well known.
That’s where the intrigue rests: two backs forged from the same mold trying to serve as metronomes for their respective attacks.
Sitting in a film session last season, Hill noticed the resemblance watching Gurley’s humbling outing against South Carolina last season, when the then-freshman mustered only 39 yards on 13 carries. Still, he has kept tabs since and sees fragments of his style in a precocious peer.
“He runs hard, man,” Hill said. “He’s a vicious runner with deceptive speed. ... He can make guys miss in space, and I think we’re similar in some ways.”
And in a cross-division series seemingly devoid of hate, jaws shouldn’t hang agape at Georgia coach Mark Richt’s assessment of the backfield brethren.
“We like ours, and I’m sure they like theirs. And I like theirs, and they probably like ours,” he said. “They’re just great players, and it’s going to be fun to watch.”