ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia star freshman Isaiah Crowell and two other tailbacks are suspended for Saturday’s game against New Mexico State, the school announced Tuesday, making a walk-on and former walk-on the top available players at the depleted position.
Crowell, Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome are suspended for one game for a “violation of team policies,” the school said.
Second-leading rusher Richard Samuel will miss the rest of the regular season after undergoing surgery on his left ankle Tuesday morning, according to coach Mark Richt.
Crowell is fifth in the Southeastern Conference with 689 rushing yards and has scored five touchdowns this season. Samuel has rushed for 240 yards and Thomas has run for 200.
That leaves former walk-on Brandon Harton (5-foot-6, 174 pounds) and walk-on Kyle Karempelis (5-9, 180) at tailback.
Fullback Zander Ogletree could also play there, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
“You know there’s going to be certain things that we’re not going to be able to do and we’re going to have to find out what our best personnel is and get them on the field,” Bobo said. “That’s what we’re in the process of doing right now.”
The leading rusher available is actually a cornerback. Brandon Boykin has rushed for 95 yards this season. Cornerback Branden Smith also has run the ball this season.
Bobo said that “we might have a couple of surprises,” of players who could get work in the backfield.
Bobo said freshmen defensive backs Nick Marshall and Damian Swann, who played offense in high school, could also be in the mix.
“Just got to figure out what we can do best and work hard at it this week,” Bobo said.
ESPN.com, citing an unnamed source, reported that the three suspended players were disciplined for failing a drug test.
“I have no comment on any of that,” Bobo said.
Harton, a redshirt sophomore from Tattnall County, has rushed for 33 yards on 11 carries, all against Coastal Carolina. He was No. 3 at tailback in the preseason, Bobo said, behind Crowell and Samuel before sustaining a severely sprained ankle.
Karempelis is a true freshman from The Wesleyan School in Norcross who has yet to play this season. He rushed for more than 5,000 yards in high school and is sixth in Georgia state history in career touchdowns.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him run on Saturday,” Bobo said. “He’s been on the scout team mostly but today he got out there and ran behind those big boys and they did a good job of opening up holes for them.”
Georgia will run against a New Mexico State (3-5) team that ranks 111th out of 120 FBS teams in rushing defense, giving up 214.4 yards per game.
Richt did not mention the latest suspensions when he talked about the tailbacks during his weekly noon news conference Tuesday before the suspensions were announced.
Richt declined a request Tuesday afternoon to comment, but Georgia issued a statement from him.
“We have certain standards in all that we do and their actions do not reflect the Georgia way,” Richt said. “They will serve their suspensions, learn a lesson and I’m sure be better men for it.”
It’s the latest off-field trouble for Georgia’s tailback position.
Crowell, a Columbus native, was held out of the first quarter of the Vanderbilt game on Oct. 15 because of an undisclosed off-field issue. This is the second suspension this season for Thomas. He was suspended for the season opener for violating team policy.
Washaun Ealey, the leading rusher the past two seasons, was suspended twice before parting ways with the program this spring.
Caleb King, the team’s No. 2 rusher in 2010 and 2009, was declared academically ineligible in July. He was suspended for two games last season and missed the bowl game for missing a fifth academic appointment.
Another tailback, Dontavius Jackson, transferred out of the program in July, 2010, four days after he was arrested by university police on charges including DUI and hit and run that drew him a six game-suspension.
There was speculation leading up to the Florida game on Saturday that Crowell was facing a possible suspension, but he played.
Athletic director Greg McGarity said “absolutely not,” when asked Tuesday if discipline was held over until after the Florida game.
“This had nothing to do with the Florida game or anything,” McGarity said. “It was all timing.”
Georgia said it has strict policies that suspensions “as a result of team or Athletic Association policies are immediate and occur at the next scheduled competition.”
The suspensions of the trio have left the Bulldogs’ coaching staff to gameplan with a makeshift backfield.