ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt and Mike Bobo have spoken for weeks about trying to get Isaiah Crowell more touches on offense.
They nearly went overboard Saturday in feeding the ball to the freshman tailback in Georgia's 27-13 win against Ole Miss.
Crowell had averaged 17 touches in the Bulldogs' first three games before carrying the ball 30 times for 147 yards against Ole Miss en route to winning SEC Freshman of the Week honors. No Georgia player had carried the ball that many times since Knowshon Moreno's 33 carries for 188 yards in a 2007 win against Florida.
"I'm not looking for him to take 30 carries a game. That's not what we were trying to do," said Richt, Georgia's head coach. "I'd like for him to be somewhere around the 20 range and catch three or four balls. If he gets 20 to 25 touches a game, I think that's a good thing to shoot for. So we've got to make sure we keep track of that maybe a little bit better."
Crowell is tied for 20th in the nation with 411 rushing yards and is tied for 27th with an average of 102.75 yards per game, making the instant impact Richt's staff expected from a player rated the nation's No. 1 running back prospect when he signed in February.
Among freshmen, only Bowling Green's Anthon Samuel, who has 428 yards on 61 carries, has run for more yards than Crowell. UConn's Lyle McCombs (99 carries for 366 yards) is the only freshman with more carries than Crowell's 77.
"Thirty carries, you get tired a little bit and have to come out of the game, but it was all right," said Crowell, who added that a 34-carry playoff game at Columbus' Carver High School was the only instance in which he had run more frequently in one outing.
His touches were evenly distributed throughout the game, with Crowell running nine times in the first quarter, five in the second, nine in the third and seven in the fourth.
However, his production began to dip as fatigue set in. Crowell had 14 rushes for 92 yards at halftime, good for an average of 6.6 yards per carry, but dropped to 55 yards and 3.4 yards per carry on 16 attempts in the second half.
Asked how much more he could have carried the ball, Crowell seemed to believe he was close to his maximum workload against Ole Miss.
"I don't know about a little bit more. I was tired around the fourth quarter," Crowell said. "But if my team needed me to, I could have."
Bobo, Georgia's offensive coordinator, said Crowell's carry total was an acceptable number, however, and that Samuel (12 touches for 71 yards) and Thomas (six touches for 42 yards) provided solid alternatives when Crowell left the field.
"That's what they're supposed to do. Good running backs can carry the ball," Bobo said. "I believe we've got some capable backups we're giving a chance to make runs."
Richt agreed on that point, sharing his surprise at the number of touches Crowell received against the Rebels.
However, it was exactly the kind of performance they expected when the five-star tailback signed with Georgia. It's not a coincidence that Crowell has carried the ball enough to rush for 100 yards in the first two SEC games of his career -- the first came two weeks ago against South Carolina -- or that he was the back with the ball in his hands when the Bulldogs (2-2, 1-1 SEC) needed to grind out their first conference win.
"Until I looked at the stat sheet, I never would have dreamed Isaiah had 30 carries," Richt said, "but when you run 82 plays and as often as we're running our tailback in our system, I thought Isaiah did a really nice job of securing the ball and making tough yards and making good decisions."
Georgia's Isaiah Crowell, the nation's top-rated back coming out of high school, is living up to his advance billing so far this season, ranking among the top five freshmen rushers in the nation.
David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at email@example.com.