ATHENS, Ga. -- As career debuts go, few can match Brendan Douglas in terms of the pressure of the moment.
The Georgia freshman had not touched the ball yet in his first college game -- he missed the opener against Clemson with an injury -- when running backs coach Bryan McClendon sent him in to spell Todd Gurley with the Bulldogs attempting to protect a 41-30 lead late in the fourth quarter against South Carolina. And all he did was break through a hole on his first career carry and flatten Gamecocks safety Brison Williams to pick up 17 yards right in front of his team's sideline, where his teammates celebrated like Douglas just scored a touchdown.
“It was crazy. That's what he's been doing since he got here,” fullback Quayvon Hicks said.
Gurley agreed: “That dude is a beast. If only you would have seen him in camp.”
Douglas generated considerable buzz during Georgia's August practices with his physical running style, but the injury before the Clemson game and the stakes in the following week's game against South Carolina -- stars Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 40 touches, 252 yards and three touchdowns – meant an opportunity had not arisen for Douglas to enter the pivotal SEC East game.
But with Marshall out of the game with a knee injury and Gurley needing a breather, Georgia's coaches turned to the freshman midway through what would become the game's final possession. The Bulldogs took over at their own 1 with 8:28 left, but hammered away at the Gamecocks' defensive front to drive 81 yards and use up all of the remaining time on the clock.
The lead hammer? Douglas, who took his first carry with 5:10 remaining and handled the ball on five of the game's final eight plays.
“If Keith was not hurt, he probably wouldn't have gotten that opportunity, but he got the opportunity and he took great advantage of it,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Every time we've seen him scrimmage, we saw what you guys saw -- a really powerful runner who's got good ball security and some good vision. So like I've been saying, he's a very legitimate Southeastern Conference tailback in my opinion, and I think he's going to have a good career for us before it's all over.”
Even Douglas was surprised, however, when McClendon called his name for the first time.
“He called me over and I was a little surprised, I guess, but I was ready to go,” Douglas told his hometown Augusta Chronicle in the tunnel outside the locker room following the game.
UGA has not cleared Douglas to participate in media sessions since preseason practice, but his coaches and teammates are more than willing to praise his talents.
For instance, Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said last week that they already view Douglas as one of the team's top short-yardage backs.
“We feel confident in him running in those situations,” Bobo said. “He does a nice job. He's hard to tackle, low to the ground, good balance and has exhibited good ball security here in camp.”
He certainly proved that on his first career carry, when he lowered his shoulder to knock Williams to the ground before slamming into other South Carolina defenders near the Georgia bench.
One of the first to reach him was tight end Arthur Lynch, who lifted Douglas into the air during the party and who expects that to be only the first of many such celebrations involving the freshman tailback.
“He was a guy that was about to go to Georgia Tech, so thank God we got him here,” Lynch said. “He's a hard-nosed kid, he's deceivingly fast, he holds the ball high and tight, which is really what you want out of a running back.
“He's got that attribute that Todd has: you can't bring him down with one guy alone and he has very good balance, so I think he's very good to have in our backfield.”