ATHENS, Ga. — Mark Richt delivered a sobering mid-week evaluation of Georgia’s top two available tailbacks.
“I think one of them knows the plays pretty good,” Richt said. “I think the other one is learning at a very rapid rate.”
That’s anything but a normal November appraisal, but this has not been a normal week for the Bulldogs.
Richt’s first reference was to sophomore Brandon Harton, who at this time last year was a walk-on receiver.
Harton asked to move to tailback before spring practice, was awarded a scholarship, and has appeared in just one game this season. But he may start today as Georgia puts its six-game winning streak on the line against New Mexico State.
Freshman walk-on Kyle Karempelis, who before this week was a scout team player, is the tailback attempting to rapidly catch up.
Richt and his staff had to scramble on Tuesday when leading rusher Isaiah Crowell and two backup tailbacks, Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome, were suspended for one game for failing drug tests.
The suspensions were announced shortly after Richt disclosed Richard Samuel, the top backup who scored the go-ahead touchdown in last week’s win over Florida, would miss at least four weeks following ankle surgery. The timetable means the junior is not expected to return in the regular season.
The suspensions and Samuel’s injury combined to wipe out Georgia’s top four tailbacks for the week.
One added blow to the offense: Top wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell will miss his third consecutive game with a hamstring injury.
Despite the setbacks, Georgia (6-2) is heavily favored against New Mexico State (3-5). The Aggies are 0-13 against Southeastern Conference teams.
New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker already has scored one first this season. The Aggies beat Minnesota 28-21 on Sept. 10 for the program’s first win over a Big Ten team. Another highlight was the Aggies’ third win in a row over New Mexico, but New Mexico State is coming off back-to-back losses to Hawaii and Nevada.
“No rest for the weary,” Walker said. “From Hawaii to Nevada to Georgia. This is murderer’s row here.
“We’ve just got to get our guys to pony up and try to be as competitive as possible and then we’ll see what happens.”