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Monday, September 21, 2009

Competition for Carries

It's sort of an odd scenario that Richard Samuel appeared to have the starting tailback job locked up heading into Saturday's game against Arkansas, then ran for a career-best 104 yards, and suddenly the picture is far less clear.

For the first time this season, Caleb King actually saw some action, and while Samuel's day consisted of one long carry and a bunch of short runs, King actually looked pretty strong in his long-awaited return to action.

After missing six weeks with a sore hamstring, King got 11 carries against Arkansas -- which is probably about double what most of us in the media figured he'd get. He racked up 59 yards (a 5.4 ypc average) and had three runs of 10 yards or longer. If you're keeping track, that's just one fewer than Samuel has all season.

And it wasn't as if King's short runs were particularly bad either. He was stopped for a loss just once, on his final rush when Georgia was simply running out the clock to set up a field goal, and quarterback Joe Cox said King was close to breaking several big ones.

"He looked good," Cox said. "He was close to really busting a couple of runs loose, but it was good for him to just get back in the game and feel the speed."

King got a ringing endorsement from his head coach, too.

"Caleb did a nice job," Mark Richt said. "He ran the ball well, protected the ball well and pass protected pretty darn good. Overall, he competed well, and he showed no signs of the hamstring injury."

King definitely pass protected well. It was a night-and-day difference from the lingering memories of the Florida game a year ago, in which a missed block essentially signaled the end of any significant playing time the rest of the season for King.

But it's the other aspect of his game that Richt mentioned that should really be given some notice. He protected the ball well.

Contrast that with Samuel, who had two fumbles in the game -- well, one officially, but no doubt the coaches saw two on film. The first fumble was on a pitch that Samuel simply dropped, and it set up an Arkansas touchdown. The second came after he was hit, and while the refs reviewed a replay and said Samuel was down, the film the rest of us saw told a different story. Samuel clearly coughed up the football, but was lucky enough to reach through the legs of his tackler and snare reel in the football before Arkansas could recover.

(EDIT: From what we heard in the press box (which was minimal) it sounded like it was ruled not a fumble. From what you guys have said though, the refs got it right -- a fumble, recovered by Samuel. Sorry for the confusion.)

The latter fumble came at a crucial point in the second half, and a turnover there could easily have cost Georgia the game. For a team with nine giveaways already this season, a fumble-prone tailback is a problem the Bulldogs' cannot afford.

Of course, the fumbles might have been a fluke, and they might be more easily overlooked if his numbers were as impressive as they appeared at first blush. But take away his 80-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and Samuel tallied just 24 yards on 15 carries (1.6 ypc).

That's not to say we should take away that 80-yard run. On one hand, Samuel was never touched. It was easily the most dominant blocking the offensive line has done all season, and the red sea was essentially parted up the middle for Samuel to dart through. But having said that, it was the type of play where last year, Knowshon Moreno might have been tracked down from behind by a speedy safety. Samuel, however, turned on the afterburners and it was obvious why the coaching staff is so high on him. The kid has ridiculous speed.

Samuel clearly has big-play potential, and in the comments I've read from readers since the game ended, there's been a pretty distinct mix of people who love the kid and people who'd just assume see him ride the pine the rest of the season.

Clearly the latter is not an option. Samuel simply has too much talent to be wasted in reserve duty. But it's interesting to note that, in the second half, he and King each had six carries, and it was King in on the final drive to ensure that the ball didn't hit the turf. That's a big role for a player who has had exactly two full practice sessions since Aug. 12.

If nothing else, King's return signals an important turning point for the offense. Carlton Thomas was simply not equipped to handle the between-the-tackles running when spelling Samuel during the first two games. King provides a strong counterpunch, even if Samuel remains the starter.

But just how the carries shake out going forward is hardly cut and dry. It's probably fair to remember that Samuel is just 18 years old, and he's still got a lot of growing to do as a tailback. At this point, it's probably fair to say that King is the more polished all-around back. So should that mean that King should get the starting job? Should Samuel be moved to a role more tailored to fit his style and kept on the sidelines during crucial moments when a fumble could spell doom for the Dawgs?

If Cox knows, he's not giving anything away. He insists he has no idea how the carries will be split this week, but he does think that the competition is a good thing regardless of who sees more touches.

"It's good for all the backs that (King) is back," Cox said. "It's not a competition, but everybody knows that we have three backs and it's going to make all of them work that much harder, and I think we'll have three guys ready to go."

So how would you like to see the backfield dynamic look next week? Which of the two tailbacks do you think has the better longterm future? Were you more impressed by King's strong return or disheartened by Samuel's penchant for coughing up the football?


Anonymous said...

I think we have seen the huge dropoff from losing Moreno more than we have seen a huge dropoff from losing Stafford. That said, we have to find someone opposite of AJ Green to take a little heat off of him. We showed a few options on Saturday, but AJ is dadgum AWESOME!
Samuel has no vision and not very good balance. Caleb is more the natural runner and showed good vision Saturday. I think having them both available will help us use Carlton Thomas more in space rather than running him between the tackles. It was good to see Caleb protect the QB, I hope he's back to 100%.

rbubp said...

DH, if I'm not mistaken, the official ruling on the field was that Samuel did fumble and that he recovered it himself.

Anonymous said...

They said on TV that on Samuel's second fumble the refs ruled that he wasn't down but that he did recover the ball himself (as opposed to Arkansas). That appeared to be correct to me after looking at it. Still, whew. That could definately have cost us the game. I think the competition is good for both Caleb and Samuel, neither one is a Knowshon that's for sure, but few are.

rbubp said...

There's no way we ignore what Samuel showed on that first drive against SC. He has a unique power and speed package that puts him in very select company" Herschel Walker, Adrian Peterson...still, we know hi flaws and only that he may one day be that good if he can add technical ability to his wondrous natural ones.

Caleb King showed a real desire to get after it. He was impressive both with and without the ball. At this point I have to concur with the coaches' mindset that ball protection must be number one if all else be equal.

Matt said...


More and more, I am of the opinon that we have a BUNCH of young, electric players (particularly at "skill" positions) out there trying to make it happen, and most all of them are very good. But with that youth we are going to endure a season of highs and lows. This may make for an exciting season, but will be horrible for the collective sanity and blood pressure of the coaches and fanbase.

That being said, I hope that we've seen our defense's highest points-allowed for the year. I can't take much more of that. Oh, and one other thing- Orson Charles is a BEAST.

Anonymous said...

the official ruling on the field was that Samuel did fumble and that he recovered it himself.

MikeInValdosta said...

Fumble, recovered by Samuel.

As for Samauel only getting 2 yds per carry sans the 80 yarder...

I believe 7 of those carries were from that dadgum shotgun/spread and he was given the ball going east or west. Line up in the effin I formation and give him the ball going down hill.

If it aint broke don't fix the #^$%# thing.

This "new Georgia" we are witnessing, while exciting, is not going to hold up against the meat of the schedule.

Cox had all night to throw the ball. That will not be the case later in the season. We are going to have to run the ball.

What is the freaking point of having Joe Cox run the ball out of the spread? Was it a coaching opportunity to show Logan Gray when to keep the ball? I sure as hell hope so.

If we can't play defense like old man Kiffin's group, we better start playing keep away like Junior did.

Apparently we watched to too damn much film on Okie State. We are now playing like a big 12 team!

It really sux that I cannot enjoy having scored 52 points.

TG Dawg said...

I don't think you can really read anything into King being on the field for that last drive after Samuel's fumble. After the first quarter King and Samuel were rotating essentially every series. It was simply King's turn in the rotation to be in the game for that last drive.

As for Samuel's numbers that he only had 24 yards on 15 carries outside of the 80 yard TD run, everyone just needs to stop focusing solely on the numbers in the box score. Watching the game you had to see that on many of those runs he was getting hit almost as soon as he touched the football, yet still managed to fight for a couple of yards. And it is irresponsible to say "oh well he only had so many yards if you take his best run of the day away." You can say that about any running back on any given day. For instance, in the NFL everyone loves Adrian Peterson but in week 1 he was largely bottled up by the Browns until he broke that long highlight run. All you heard from anyone about Peterson was how great he was, not that he was shut down for much of the day outside of one long run.

So why the different treatment for Samuel? IMO all the Samuel haters turned against him when he was a 16-17 year old kid who had trouble holding on to the ball in his true freshman year and are holding tightly to that first impression and will never be willing to give the kid a chance no matter what he does. Just keep doing your thing and keep improving Richard, and don't worry about all the stubborn haters out there who will never get off your back.

Anonymous said...

Richarhats a is a brusier, and that is a great thing to have in the SEC. Caleb is a little is smoother. Carlton is our burner. I say by percentages we run a 40,40, 20 split with Thomas the obvious 20. This will all be decided by the opponent and their lines size and talent. If we use Richard to beat them up it will make carrys for C-n-C alot easier to navigate. I would mind seeing the occasional two back set as well. Richard is close to a full back as is.

Anonymous said...

A fumble 1 in 8 touches is not going to cut it for Samuel, regardless of removing his best run. And by the way, take almost any game from Knowshon from last year and remove his largest run and his stats still look great. Having a consistant runner that doesnt lose the ball is extremely important, and Samuel has proven that he can do neither. I bet King gets the majority of the carries from here on out if he can get his mind right. I think he really impressed the coaches with his effort in some of the blocks.

TG Dawg said...

King was great in protection, but Samuel was just as impressive. No way King gets the majority of touches from here on out. I expect we will likely see a series by series rotation with Samuel and King the rest of the season like we saw the entire second half against Arkansas with Thomas getting sprinkled in for certain situations.

And I'm still not sure why everyone insists that Thomas is the "burner" in the backfield. Both Samuel and King are faster than Thomas. What Thomas has is elusiveness, not outstanding breakaway speed.

But all in all I am very happy with our RB situation. We have two very good backs that compliment each other and who both have the potential to become great backs with more experience and game repetition.