UGA unsettled at tailback spot

UGA unsettled at tailback spot

November 23rd, 2011 by David Paschall in Sports

Former walk-on Brandon Harton is in the mix for starting tailback this week after rushing for 101 yards last Saturday against Kentucky.

Former walk-on Brandon Harton is in the mix...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

ATHENS, Ga. -- So, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, how many tailbacks have you handed off to these last two years?

"Seven. Eight. It's been up there," Murray said Tuesday. "I don't mind at all as long as those guys have been making plays, which they have been."

Four Georgia tailbacks have received at least nine carries in the past two weeks alone, when the Bulldogs wrapped up the SEC East title with victories over Auburn and Kentucky. The position is up for grabs this week as a date with Georgia Tech in Atlanta approaches.

Richard Samuel, who began the season as the starter, remains out with the ankle injury he suffered on the final play of the Florida game. Isaiah Crowell, the team's leading rusher, left the Kentucky game with an ankle injury in the first quarter. Carlton Thomas was suspended for the Kentucky game after rushing for a career-high 127 yards against Auburn. Brandon Harton had a career-best 101 yards against the Wildcats but fumbled twice, and Ken Malcome added 37 yards but fumbled once.

"It's just not cut and dry," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "I don't even know who is going to start. I don't even know who's going to play. We are working our way through it. We'll know more by the end of the week.

"We have some guys who have to learn to hold on to the football, and I just want to see them practice. I guess competition is the hold-up."

Richt hasn't announced whether Thomas, who has been suspended three times this season, will even suit up, but offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said after Tuesday's practice that Thomas is playing. Bobo also seemed more optimistic than Richt regarding Crowell playing.

Murray, who sizzled against Auburn but struggled at times last week after Crowell went out, is not worrying about the situation.

"I know I trust the guys behind me, and I know whoever they put back there will do fine," Murray said. "Harton has been playing extremely well. Ken had some great runs last week, too. Both of those guys are gaining confidence right now, and they're both feeling good about getting more playing time."

The Bulldogs are facing a Georgia Tech defense that has concerns of its own. The Yellow Jackets have not produced a dominant game defensively all season, yielding at least 16 points each game and at least 21 points nine times.

Tech has allowed more than 30 points the past two weeks, when the Jackets lost to Virginia Tech (37-26) before surviving Duke (38-31).

"The last two games haven't been great," Tech coach Paul Johnson said Tuesday. "We've had spurts where we've played pretty good defense, but we haven't been consistent, and you can say that about every aspect of the team, really. That's going to be a challenge, because the last three times since I've been here they've scored a lot of points.

"I don't think we've held them under 30 yet."

Indeed, the Bulldogs have scored 42 points twice and 30 points once in their past three meetings against their in-state rivals.

Georgia Tech allowed four touchdown passes last week against the Blue Devils and gave up three against the Hokies. Duke and Virginia Tech were also a combined 15-of-29 on third-down conversions.

"We haven't been able to get any pressure on the passer, and the quarterbacks have completed a high percentage," Johnson said. "We've had a hard time getting off the field on third downs, so other than that it's all just peachy keen."