ATLANTA — Mark Richt said Monday he is opening the competition at tailback with almost a month for No. 18 Georgia to prepare for its Outback Bowl game against No. 12 Michigan State.
Georgia has had four starters at tailback through the season, thanks to injuries and suspensions.
Richt said former starter Richard Samuel, who has missed four games since surgery on his left ankle, should return for the Jan. 2 game in Tampa.
Carlton Thomas started and hurt his left knee in the third quarter of Georgia’s 42-10 Southeastern Conference championship game loss to Louisiana State University on Saturday.
Freshman Isaiah Crowell, who missed Georgia’s win over Georgia Tech with a sprained left ankle, struggled with the injury against LSU.
Richt didn’t name a starter for the bowl game.
“You know what, it will be a competitive situation throughout the bowl practice time and we’ll just see who is best equipped to do it,” he said.
Richt said the injury that forced Thomas out of Saturday’s game is not serious.
“Before we play, I think he’ll have enough time to practice and throw his hat in the ring, too,” Richt said.
Samuel, a junior, started three games before hurting his ankle on the final play of a 24-20 win over Florida on Oct. 29.
Crowell leads the team with 847 yards rushing and five touchdowns. He had four 100-yard games, all against SEC opponents.
Crowell limped off the field several times against LSU and was held to 15 yards rushing on 10 carries.
“It was never 100 percent the whole game,” he said of his ankle. “I just wanted to fight for my team.”
Georgia’s most dramatic search for help at tailback came against New Mexico State, when Crowell, Thomas and Ken Malcome were suspended. Branden Smith started at cornerback and tailback. Former walk-on Brandon Harton led Georgia with 98 yards rushing in the game.
Malcome, a redshirt freshman, might have improved his standing with Richt on Saturday as he led the team with five carries for 37 yards. The Bulldogs set a season low with 78 yards rushing.
Richt tentatively plans to have one practice Saturday before players focus on final exams, then return for a schedule of 12 to 15 practices in Athens and Tampa.
Richt will give his seniors at least one day off from practice and said he will treat that
day like an early spring practice, giving younger players the stage.