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Questions Surround UGA’s Tailback Spot, Suspensions

The fallout from yesterday’s injury and suspension announcements at Georgia continues this morning.  Without Isaiah Crowell, Ken Malcome, Carlton Thomas (all suspended), and Richard Samuel (ankle surgery yesterday), the Bulldogs will face New Mexico State perilously thin at tailback.

Former walk-on Brandon Harton and current walk-on Kyle Karempelis are all that’s left at running back for the Dawgs.  Harton is all of 5-6, 174.  Karempelis — the bruiser of the two — is 5-9, 180.  Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said yesterday that fullback Zander Ogletree could move to tailback for this week, as well.

“You know there’s going to be certain things that we’re not going to be able to do and we’re going to have to find out what our best personnel is and get them on the field,” Bobo said.  “That’s what we’re in the process of doing right now.”

Bobo also said “we might have a couple of surprises,” which might mean a pair of cornerbacks might get some touches.  Branden Smith and Brandon Boykin have both rushed the ball this season.

Asked about the three suspensions all coming at the same time — and about reports that Crowell, Malcome and Thomas failed drug testsBobo refused comment, directing all questions of that nature to Mark Richt.

“It’s an opportunity for some guys to step up.  It’s an opportunity for us to change some things up, maybe do some things different,” Bobo said.  “Figure out ways to move the ball.  And other guys gotta step up and make plays.”

UGA should be able to survive the suspensions against New Mexico State, of course.  The Aggies are 3-5 on the year.  They allow 32 points per game.  And their rush defense is ranked 111th out of 120 teams nationally.  (They did, however, upset Minnesota in Minneapolis earlier this season.)

With NMSU unlikely to cause many problems, the real headline in all of this is what did Georgia know and when did it know it.  Interestingly, two sharp-penned columnists for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution are backing the story shared by the UGA staff yesterday.

Mark Bradley writes:

“Georgia insists it did not cherry-pick which game the backs would miss.  Greg McGarity, the athletic director, said: ‘When certain things are found, we act right then.’  Claude Felton, the Hall of Fame publicist, said: ‘At the point a violation is discovered, if a suspension is required the penalty will be enforced for the next contest.’ …

The two men quoted regarding the timing of the penalty — McGarity and Felton — are men, I’ve come to believe, whose word means something.  Call me naive, but those are men I’d trust not just to say the right thing but to do it.”

It’s bad timing for McGarity to have to step forward and ask for trust right now.  It was just two weeks ago that he told a Georgia beatwriter that the SEC was looking at 13-team schedules only for 2012.  Later in the week an ESPN exec and Mike Slive admitted that the SEC was in fact looking at 13- and 14-team schedules.

That’s one issue on a rather small topic, but so much for putting 100% faith in what McGarity says 100% of the time.

Jeff Schultz writes that this is bad timing for Georgia as it steadies itself for an SEC East title run.  He also says the following:

“Now, there’s a lot of speculation out there about what happened and when it happened.  ESPN has reported that three players failed a drug test that was administered last week, before the Florida game.  The Twitterverse has gone nuclear with suggestions that Richt and school officials knew something was amiss last week but sat on it, so as to defer punishment until the New Mexico State game.

Honestly, there are a lot of coaches where I would believe such a conspiracy theory to be true — but Richt isn’t one of them.”

That says something coming from a man who has been one of Richt’s toughest critics.  (Not all of Richt’s critcs are giving the man or his program the benefit of the doubt.)

We tend to believe the Georgia story in this case, too.  Not because McGarity is an honest soul (see: scheduling comment).  Not because this kind of thing doesn’t go on all the time around college athletics.  And not because Richt is perfect — he’s the real deal in terms of good guys, but even good guys have flaws.

No, we buy the UGA story because McGarity has stated it so boldly.  He’s left himself no wiggle room.  And if these three Georgia players failed their drug test — and the results were known — prior to the Florida game, that fact will come out.  Getting caught in that kind of lie and cover-up will erode McGarity’s reputation a lot more than a fib about scheduling designed to fend off Missouri questions and Big 12 lawsuits.

McGarity knows this.  If UGA had delayed punishment on this one, it’s likely the AD would have danced around the questions he got yesterday, rather than answer them.  He answered them.  Boldly.

Ironically, for Florida fans up in arms over all of this, McGarity was Jeremy Foley’s right-hand man for many a moon down in Gainesville.  Together they presided over a number of situations just like this one — was a player punished fairly, should he return to the Gator team, etc.  For that reason it’s probably best if UF fans don’t feign too much outrage.

Moving forward, expect more of a spotlight to be shined on Crowell, too.  The freshman who has been compared to Herschel Walker now has a very public misstep on his resume.  There are rumors of other issues as well. 

Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph sums the situation up by stating: “Georgia is going to give him a chance, but you can also understand why the team is making a big push for tailback recruit Keith Marshall from Raleigh, N.C.”

At this point, yes, you certainly can.

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Injury, Suspensions Leave UGA With Ex-Walk-Ons At RB; Were The Suspensions Delayed?

Georgia is in a world of hurt at the running back position this week.  Good thing they’ll be facing New Mexico State.

First, Richard Samuel — who really made a difference in Saturday’s win over Florida — is likely to miss the rest of the regular season after undergoing surgery on his left ankle today.  UGA’s second-leading rusher hurt the ankle on the final play of the game.

“Richard really had probably his finest performance in a really big game and for it to happen on the last play is just sad for him,” Mark Richt said.

The injury to the tailback-turned-linebacker-turned-tailback is especially rough considering the news that broke a bit later in the day — Georgia has suspended three tailbacks for Saturday’s game due to a violation of team rules.

That group includes Isaiah Crowell and backups Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome.  And that leaves Georgia with two former walk-ons to carry the ball this weekend — sophomore Brandon Harton and senior Wes Van Dyk.

“We have certain standards in all that we do and their actions do not reflect the Georgia way,” Mark Richt said via statement.  “They will serve their suspensions, learn a lesson and I’m sure be better men for it.”

As we always ask in situations like this — Did the players’ rules violations occur after Saturday’s game with Florida?  Or did Richt simply decide to hold off on the suspension until after his team had played its biggest SEC rival?

UPDATE – Rumors had swirled on Georgia messageboards last week that Crowell and other players had failed a drug test.  Some outlets are reporting today that the three players did fail a drug test.  Coincidence?

Marc Weiszer of The Athens Banner-Herald asked Georgia AD Greg McGarity if the players’ punishment had been delayed until after the Florida game last weekend.  “Absolutely not,” he responded.  “It was all timing.”

Well, if the school knew the players were going to fail the test and they said, “Don’t show me the results until Monday,” it wouldn’t be the first time that kind of thing happened in the SEC.

And that’s one more reason — get ready for us to beat our favorite drum — that the SEC should implement a uniform drug policy for all of its member institutions.  Instead, we’re going to be dealing with a lot of questions regarding who at Georgia knew what and when did they know it.  That kind of publicity isn’t good for the conference on the eve of its mega-game between Alabama and LSU.

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