Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon has an exact number for the amount of running backs he’d like to use against No. 5 Boise State on Saturday.
“I would like to suit up every stinking one of them,” McClendon said without a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
On one hand, it’s nice to have five bodies in the backfield. On the other, those five have a combined six starts in 22 games; all coming courtesy of Samuel, who moved back to running back after a short stint at linebacker. The other four have no game experience.
This isn’t an ideal situation for a team with SEC championship aspirations that must face a Broncos defense that ranked seventh nationally against the run (103.77 yards per game) last year.
The Bulldogs were supposed to return the shifty but troubled Washaun Ealey and senior Caleb King. Ealey left the team in May and King was ruled academically ineligible.
But all is not lost.
Samuel, who will be the Bulldogs’ bruiser at 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, has become a teacher for Georgia’s young runners, and the indications from Athens are that Crowell, the No. 1 running back coming out of high school last year, is legit.
Samuel said his time at linebacker can help him as a running back because of his ability to read defenses faster and know where holes will form. He’s bestowed that knowledge on Crowell and has seen him pick things up faster than he imagined.
“I feel like I can point out things that people who haven't played in this league or haven't gotten any snaps against an opponent and tell them what to look for,” Samuel said.
What he can’t teach is dealing with hype, something Crowell says he’s ignored, but there’s still some diva in him.
Tuesday, Crowell blew the media off, myself included, for close to three hours before Georgia’s sports communication personnel tracked him down at a tutoring appointment and brought him back for interviews just after 10 p.m.
Crowell admitted his time management is an issue, but feels his nerves won’t be Saturday. He’s ready for his first game to be over “as soon as possible” so he can get into the rhythm of the season.
“That’s what I came here for, really, just to play and play early and do whatever I can do to help my team win,” Crowell said.
Numerous fans greet him more than the media, putting more pressure on his plate. He tries to shut it out, and his coaches feel he’s done a good job of focusing on football.
“He has a very, very good understanding of that,” McClendon said. “We have to make sure we keep preaching that to him.”
While five running backs are available, Samuel and Crowell will get the brunt of the carries.
With their different running styles, Samuel expects that he and Crowell will be dynamic together. He envisions his power and Crowell’s speed and elusiveness complementing each other well, forcing Boise State to adjust more on defense, throwing its rhythm off.
For McClendon, it isn’t so much about using two different types of runners, it’s about finding players who can operate the offense best.
“Styles aside, you want two guys who are going to be productive,“ McClendon said. “You want the production that those guys give you, it doesn’t matter what style it is, whether it’s small or big. You want guys who are going to be productive and running your every-down offense.”
Saturday is almost here and McClendon's group is getting restless. It’s out to prove its doubters wrong, but McClendon has stressed to his players to focus on helping the team before helping their reputations.
The image of the running game won’t matter if the Bulldogs get the victory, McClendon said.
“I’m very excited, but the biggest thing is that we have to get there,” he said. “Everyone around is getting a little itchy and ready to play, but you have to make sure you’re doing all the things in the process right in order to get the result that you want on Saturday.”