ATHENS -- Georgia’s backfield was left in disarray Tuesday after three tailbacks were suspended, including star Isaiah Crowell, and top reserve Richard Samuel was ruled out for the rest of the regular season with an injury.
The impact is mitigated by the fact that Georgia’s next opponent is New Mexico State, a non-conference opponent. Crowell, the SEC’s fifth-leading rusher, is expected back for the team’s pivotal game Nov. 12 against Auburn.
But for one game, the team is now left with Brandon Harton, a former walk-on, and Kyle Karempelis, still not on scholarship. Those two figure to get a heavy dose of the carries, along with fullback Zander Ogletree and “a couple surprises,” according to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
“There are gonna be certain things we’re not able to do, and we’re gonna have to find out what our best personnel is and get them in the game and get them on the field, and that’s what we’re in the process of doing right now,” Bobo said after Tuesday’s practice.
Crowell and fellow tailbacks Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome were suspended for one game for what the Georgia football team called a violation of team policies. A source said Crowell’s suspension was related to a drug test, echoing a report from ESPN.com.
Bobo declined several times to discuss the suspended tailbacks and declined comment on the report that it was for positive drug tests.
The suspensions continue a run of drug-related problems in the SEC. LSU suspended three players after they reportedly tested positive for synthetic marijuana, and last week, Alabama’s Brent Callaway was arrested for drug possession.
This is the second time Crowell has been disciplined for game action. He sat out the first quarter of Georgia’s game Oct. 14 at Vanderbilt for undisclosed reasons.
“We have certain standards in all that we do and their actions do not reflect the Georgia way,” head coach Mark Richt said in a statement. “They will serve their suspensions, learn a lesson, and I’m sure be better men for it.”
Richt did not bring up the suspensions during his weekly news conference Tuesday. The suspensions were revealed a few hours later.
Then there was the loss of Samuel, who had surgery Tuesday morning and will be out a minimum of four weeks. The redshirt junior scored the winning touchdown in Georgia’s 24-20 win over Florida on Saturday.
Before the news on the suspensions was announced, Richt was asked if the third spot in the tailback rotation was open for competition.
“Yeah. It’s open season. It sure is,” he said.
Harton, a redshirt sophomore, was awarded a scholarship in August. The Tattnall County product is listed at 5-foot-6 and 174 pounds. His only carries this year came against Coastal Carolina, when he had 11 carries for 33 yards.
Karempelis, listed at 5-9 and 180 pounds, has never appeared in a game. But Bobo pointed out that he had a sterling high school career at the Wesleyan School, where he rushed for more than 5,000 yards.
Ogletree, the team’s second-string fullback, could fill in at tailback, as well. And Bobo named four defensive players who could see some action: Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith (each who already has played a lot of offense) and freshmen Nick Marshall and Damian Swann.
Marshall was a highly touted quarterback at Wilcox County.
“We’re still gonna have to do things that we do within our offense,” Bobo said. “These guys have been in the running back position all year and know what we’re doing. But there might be some different things we have to do to get guys the football.”
Samuel’s injury apparently came on the final play against Florida, when he sealed the win with a first-down run. He had struggled with injuries this year and been lost at times behind Crowell. So the performance in Jacksonville seemed like a breakthrough for Samuel, who spent last year redshirting while learning to play linebacker, only to move back to tailback.
“We felt like he’s been helping us win all along, but for him personally, he felt like he finally made a significant contribution to this team in a big game and helped us win,” Richt said. “He reached that goal in this particular game. I think it’s been every game he’s helped us win. Now he has to wait a little while to go do it again.”