The biggest UGA story during my week off might have been Mark Richt's admission that there was at least a chance Richard Samuel would be moved to linebacker next season. The rationale is simple: Samuel is big, strong and fast, but he just doesn't have those natural instincts a running back needs to hit the hole and break tackles. The evidence is simple, too: He makes contact, then goes down. Too many short runs, not enough first downs. But is it true?
Here's a rundown of the runs made by each of Georgia's four primary tailbacks this season:
|Player||Total Runs||0/Neg. (Pct)||1-3 yds (Pct)|| 4-6 yds (Pct)|| 7-9 yds (Pct)||10+ yds (Pct)|
|R.Samuel||77|| 16 (20.7%)|| 31 (40.3%)|| 15 (19.5%)|| 9 (11.6%)|| 6 (7.8%)|
| C. King||35|| 9 (25.7%)|| 13 (37.1%)|| 6 (17.1 %)|| 1 (2.9%)|| 6 (17.1%)|
| W. Ealey||31|| 6 (19.3%)|| 15 (48.4%)|| 6 (19.3%)|| 3 (9.6%)|| 1 (3.2%)|
| C.Thomas||19|| 3 (15.8%)|| 5 (26.3%)|| 5 (26.3%)|| 2 (13.2%)||4 (21.1%)|
Well, it's hard to argue with the notion that Samuel does, indeed, provide a hefty dose of short runs. In fact, 61 percent of the time Samuel carries the football, he picks up fewer than 3 yards. That's not going to get it done.
But is that Samuel's fault or are there other forces at work here?
Look at Georgia's other three tailbacks: Caleb King picks up 3 yards or fewer on 62.8 percent of his carries. Washaun Ealey fails to top 3 yards on a whopping 67.7 percent of his carries. Only Carlton Thomas has had more success at picking up consistent yardage on his runs than Samuel, and his numbers are dubious for several reasons including both a small sample size and the fact that the majority of his work has come during "garbage time" efforts.
So is Samuel really more prone to going down on first contact? These numbers say no. The problem is either a.) All of Georgia's tailbacks fail to break tackles or b.) Georgia's O line simply isn't making longer runs an option.
Of course, there's also the other end of the scale. What about those really long runs -- the ones that seriously erode a defense's confidence and set the offense up with strong field position? On that end, King is the clear winner, and Samuel doesn't seem to have much success. Perhaps that is a better indication of "instincts." Perhaps those real running lanes have been a rarity this season, but when they do appear, King has taken advantage of them while Samuel has not.
That seems reasonable, but if we expand our definition of "big play" to include any of more than 7 yards, suddenly the difference between Samuel and King disappears. So maybe it's not first contact that Samuel has more trouble with than others, but second contact.
Again, none of this is a foolproof answer to the question, but at the same time it does sort of dampen that conventional wisdom that Samuel simply isn't cut out to play tailback.
A few other points worth noting from this data:
-- If Georgia does move Samuel, I'm not sure the coaching staff can be criticized for a failed experiment. What does seem perplexing, however, is why -- if Samuel needed time to develop his skills as a runner -- he wasn't redshirted last year when he was just 17 and had minimal tailback experience.
-- Washaun Ealey seems to be the ray of hope for most fans, but while he has had a couple of more memorable runs, his overall body of work is clearly the worst of the four.
-- Carlton Thomas needs more touches. He's not a traditional runner, but when given a chance to succeed, he does it. Coaches need to stop looking at him as a third or fourth option and start viewing him as a real weapon for the offense.
I did a good bit more research on the running game as well, and we'll get to that later today and tomorrow, so stay tuned.
ADDENDUM: I should also note that perhaps the most stinging indictment of Samuel is not his short runs but rather his propensity for fumbles. I'll take a series of 2-yard totes over a turnover any day.