(Updated with confirmation of failed drug tests)
Timing is everything.
A few days following Georgia’s biggest win of the season over its greatest tormentors (Florida), the Bulldogs suspended three tailbacks, including Isaiah Crowell, for the next game. But because Saturday’s opponent is New Mexico State, half the team could be suspended, and it wouldn’t make a difference in the result. It just means that with the team now down four running backs, quarterback Aaron Murray’s favorite call in the huddle will sound something like this: “Everybody go out!”
But, yes — timing is everything, and for Georgia this stinks.
The Dogs have won six straight. They’ve started to distance themselves from a 0-2 start. But now the news is not about the team being on a roll and possibly running the table for the next four weeks and winning the SEC Eastern Division. Rather, it’s about three players veering off course again, which threatens to derail some of the momentum the team has built in the past few weeks.
Coach Mark Richt has suspended Crowell (who also was benched for the first quarter of the Vanderbilt game for unspecified reasons), Carlton Thomas (who also was suspended for the season opener) and Ken Malcome.
All three players failed drug tests that were administered last week before the Florida game, two sources told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And so we have confirmation that, yes, these are college kids who sometimes do really dumb things.
Richt did not mention anything about the suspensions or drug tests at his weekly news conference Tuesday but released a statement later, saying only: “We have certain standards in all that we do, and their actions do not reflect the Georgia way. They will serve their suspensions, learn a lesson and I’m sure be better men for it.”
Now, there’s a lot of speculation out there about what happened and when it happened. 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 (which obviously isn’t as important as the Florida game).
Honestly, there are a lot of coaches in Division I college football where I would believe such a conspiracy theory to be true. But Richt isn’t one of them.
Athletic director Greg McGarity told our Chip Towers, “This has nothing to do with anything that [happened before] the Florida game. Absolutely not. … Certain things are found, and we act right then.”
Just when the Dogs finally got going, they stepped in it again. We’ll find out in the coming weeks how much this impacts the team, and it starts with Crowell. He is the biggest concern. He was benched for the first quarter of the Vanderbilt game (Richt never stated why). So this is at least two strikes for the team’s freshman starting running back. There is no need to amplify how important he is to the team. No. 2 running back Richard Samuel already is out for the remainder of the regular season after ankle surgery, so that’s four running backs off the depth chart.
Crowell clearly still has maturity issues. That’s not uncommon for a freshman. But it can’t comfort Richt going down the stretch of the season.
Running back hasn’t been the most stable of positions in Athens. Less you need reminding, the depth chart last season included Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, both potential returnees this year. But they suffered through suspensions and eligibility issues. Ealey transferred to Jacksonville State. King was declared academically ineligible for this fall and went to the NFL (he went undrafted before signing with Minnesota’s practice squad).
The assumption at this point is that Crowell, Thomas and Malcome all will be back in time for the Auburn game in two weeks. But nothing can be certain — nothing except that at a time when the Dogs are finally winning, the last thing they needed was for a few players to start acting like knuckleheads.
And that would certainly seem to be the case here.
By Jeff Schultz