Five Georgia Bulldogs have started at tailback this season:
Isaiah Crowell 7
Richard Samuel 3
Ken Malcome 1
Branden Smith 1
Carlton Thomas 1
Georgia has roughly four weeks until its Outback Bowl matchup with Michigan State, which is more than enough time to develop a sixth starting tailback.
The Bulldogs have started four players at tailback in their past five games, a stretch that began with cornerback Branden Smith getting the nod Nov. 5 against New Mexico State. Georgia was without Isaiah Crowell, Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome that game due to single-game suspensions, as well as Richard Samuel because of an ankle injury.
Crowell, Thomas and Malcome have started since, and the position is up for grabs for the trip to Tampa.
"It will be a competitive situation throughout the bowl practice time," coach Mark Richt said Monday. "We'll just see who's best equipped to do it. We expect Richard Samuel to be healthy and get back in the mix there, too."
Samuel started the first two games this season and started at Vanderbilt on Oct. 15, when Crowell was suspended for the first quarter. The 6-foot-2, 243-pound redshirt junior came off the bench Oct. 29 to score the go-ahead touchdown against Florida but sustained ligament damage in his left ankle on the final play of that game.
Crowell, who leads the team with 847 yards and was named Monday as SEC freshman of the year, sprained his ankle two carries into the Nov. 19 win over Kentucky, which caused him to miss the next week's game at Georgia Tech. Malcome started at Tech and Thomas started at last Saturday's SEC title game against LSU, but Thomas had to leave in the third quarter with a knee injury.
"We don't think the injury to Carlton Thomas is very serious," Richt said. "I think he'll have enough time to practice to throw his hat into the ring, too."
In the past two games, Georgia's tailbacks have combined for 125 yards on 39 carries, or 3.2 yards a carry.
The Outback Bowl is not being ranked among the most compelling matchups of postseason, but it would be hard to find a pairing of more similar teams. Georgia and Michigan State each is 10-3 after losing its conference championship game, and both possess top-five defenses.
Georgia ranks third nationally in total defense (allowing 268.5 yards a game), while the Spartans are fifth (272.7).
"We seem to kind of mirror each other," Richt said. "It looks like there are a lot of similarities all the way down to turnover margin, where we are both plus-7."
Atoning for last season's bowl experience is certainly a shared objective. The Bulldogs lost to Central Florida 10-6 in the Liberty Bowl on New Year's Eve, a day before the Spartans were humiliated in a 49-7 loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.
The Liberty Bowl was just the third setback Richt has suffered in 10 bowl games, but counterpart Mark Dantonio has an 0-4 bowl mark with the Spartans.
"We're going to be motivated about that," Dantonio said. "When it's your last steps out on the football field, you want to go out a winner."
After trips to the Independence Bowl and the Liberty Bowl the past two seasons, Georgia can expect a warmer reception this time around.
"We know we're in for a great treat, not only for the players but the coaches and their wives and children," Richt said. "That's always important to us. When you put the work in, there is a reward at the end, and there are so many great things to do in Tampa."
Odds and ends
Georgia senior center Ben Jones is among six finalists for the Rimington Trophy, which is given to the most outstanding center.
Richt expects the Bulldogs to have 12 to 15 bowl practices. ... Dantonio and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham were Spartans assistants under Nick Saban in the late 1990s. ... Dantonio on rival Michigan getting into a BCS bowl: "I consider myself first of all with Michigan State, so I have no comment."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.