ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech tailback Gordon Clinkscale went nearly three years between carries, but he figures to get much busier the rest of the season.
Starter Ajenavi Eziemefe is hobbled by a sprained ankle, and if he can't play Saturday against Virginia, Clinkscale moves up to No. 2 on the depth chart behind P.J. Daniels.
Already the third-down back, Clinkscale has seen more playing time recently, culminating with a career-best 87 yards rushing last week in a 34-10 loss to Maryland.
That effort more than doubled his career rushing total, and he could play an even bigger role against the Cavaliers.
"I'm happy about it, I'm all for it," Clinkscale said. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help this team and get us a W."
The Yellow Jackets have been hit hard by injuries in the backfield, losing the country's leading rusher, Tony Hollings, to a season-ending injury in the fourth game.
Like Hollings, who was a converted safety, Clinkscale didn't play in the backfield a year ago, spending his time at wide receiver.
He didn't touch the ball for the second straight year, so he moved back to a more familiar role this season. In 1999, he ran for 46 yards in limited duty as a tailback.
"Coming into the season, depth was a little better and he was going to be a little bit more of a role player," said running backs coach Patrick Nix. "As the season has progressed, he's definitely been asked to do more. He's accepted the challenge and done very well with it."
Since Hollings went down, Clinkscale has made the most of his opportunity. He's the third-leading rusher for the Yellow Jackets (4-3, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), averaging nearly 10 yards a carry, and he's tied for fourth with eight catches.
All this while providing steady leadership to a team rocked by hard times this year; in addition to Hollings' injury, defensive end Greg Gathers is out for the remainder of the season with a kidney ailment.
"When you come off a real disappointing loss, you need to hear some good encouraging words, and that's what I try to do," Clinkscale said. "During the week, you try to lead by example during practice and anything we do, going to class and being on time for everything."
But Clinkscale, Eziemefe and Daniels can't replace Hollings in every way.
Eziemefe "runs hard, and we all know that Gordon Clinkscale did an excellent job against Maryland," coach Chan Gailey said. "But you don't see any of the field reversals or any of the 50- and 60-yard runs. That's what Tony was giving us."
The Yellow Jackets have lost two straight in the conference with the heart of their schedule still left. So far, this season is looking eerily similar to 2001, when they dropped three of their last four during the regular season.
To stop the skid, they must beat the Cavaliers (6-2, 4-1), who've won six straight.
"What we experienced last year was a learning experience," Clinkscale said. "This year, we're thinking like, OK, we've been through this before, now we've got to learn from what happened last year.
"We've got to correct the mistakes and correct the problems that are happening now."