ATHENS, Ga. — When Washaun Ealey and Caleb King gashed Georgia Tech for a combined 349 rushing yards in a 30-24 Georgia win in Atlanta in 2009, their message worn on eye black and arms created a buzz: “I Run This State.”
In the two seasons since then, the question many weeks for the Bulldogs has been this: “Who Runs This Week?”
Between suspensions and injuries, Georgia’s tailback position has remained a picture of instability, even after the departures of Ealey and King.
The arrival of freshman Isaiah Crowell brought more yards and wins, but headaches at the position have continued, with the availability of Crowell and Carlton Thomas for Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech still not certain.
“It’s been a pain in the rear this year, no doubt,” coach Mark Richt said. “But again, there’s been different reasons for all this. In football whether it’s injuries, suspension, whatever, guys end up not being there and another guy’s got to jump in there and play.”
Thomas has served three one-game suspensions, but Richt has not said if he will play against the Yellow Jackets.
Crowell was suspended for the first quarter against Vanderbilt and for the New Mexico State game when he, Thomas and Ken Malcome all were kept from playing for reportedly failed drug tests.
“Everybody thinks the running backs, we’re troublemakers, but it’s a lot more to it than people think,” said Malcome, who left the team for a day this season before returning. “We’re not going to let people just say we’re troublemakers. We’re going to prove them wrong. I’m sure none of us will be suspended the next couple of years here. That’s something people ain’t got to worry about. We’ve learned our lesson.”
Running backs coach Bryan McClendon said he “definitely gets frustrated” with the discipline issues at his position.
“It does burn you up a little bit when guys don’t make those right decisions, no matter how small or how big they are,” McClendon said. “You’ve got to make sure they’re making the right decisions and hold them accountable when they don’t.”
Richard Samuel and Brandon Harton haven’t had any missteps, but Samuel will miss his fifth game Saturday. He remains out with an ankle injury.
There was hope that Crowell would be the answer for the next few seasons.
The Columbus, Ga., product has run for 832 yards and is fourth in the SEC in rushing, but his durability has been a sore spot for fans that want him to play more. Crowell has left parts of several games for various injuries.
He played only three snaps last week against Kentucky due to a sprained left ankle when 313-pound Georgia guard Chris Burnette landed on him after a run. That’s limited him in practice this week.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo didn’t question Crowell’s toughness with his latest injury.
“You go look at the tape, the guy got rolled up pretty good on his ankle,” said Bobo, who on Tuesday thought Crowell would be able to go against Georgia Tech.