Athens — Mike Gundy is quick to discount the notion that Georgia’s running game is uncertain.
“When we played down there last time,” the Oklahoma State coach said by phone Friday, referring to the Cowboys’ 2007 trip to Athens, “they were talking about difficulty in the running game and that they didn’t know who was going to carry the ball. And that was the first run-in we had with Knowshon Moreno. So we’re not really buying that Georgia is doing this rebuilding.”
When the Bulldogs open the season at Oklahoma State next Saturday, they will have a new starter at tailback — sophomore Richard Samuel.
“They say they have a back there that is better than the King kid,” Gundy said, referring to the injured Georgia tailback Caleb King. “I saw the King kid play in high school, so [if Samuel is better] that concerns me somewhat.”
Moreno, the 12th pick of this year’s NFL draft, made his college debut in Georgia’s 2007 victory over Oklahoma State with 70 yards rushing and 51 yards receiving.
Gundy spoke with Georgia reporters on a conference call Friday, eight days before the Bulldogs and Cowboys meet in Stillwater.
Among the topics that came up, of course: the famous YouTube video of Gundy’s tirade against an Oklahoma newspaper columnist.
“Certainly, I’m still baffled by [it] having over 2 million hits in the first 10 days or so,” Gundy said. “It still blows my mind something grabbed that much attention, but I guess in a technology- and media-sensitive world we’re in now, everybody is looking for information.”
Gundy said the rant, which came after a game two years ago, has had one unintended benefit: “It’s helped us in recruiting in a big way.”
It’s often one of the first things recruits’ parents, guardians and high school coaches bring up, he said.
Gundy said he would repeat the rant under the same circumstances.
“If I had it to do all over again, I would not have changed anything I did,” he said. “I felt we had a player that was treated unfairly, and it was my responsibility as the head coach to stand up for that player. I have three sons of my own, and if they ever went and played ball or did anything with their career and there was someone responsible for them [who] didn’t try to stand up for them, it would disappoint me as a parent.
“It has become somewhat laughable,” he said of the attention the rant received. “I have a 7-year-old son who can recite it word-for-word. He was at baseball practice this summer, 7-year-olds, and I heard him in the outfield [borrowing from the tirade by] telling one of his buddies, ‘You guys hitting makes me want to puke.’ I said, ‘Look, back off on that.’ Anyway, it has gotten blown out of proportion, but that is how it is.”
Another topic Gundy discussed on the conference call: his team’s defense, which last year allowed 406 yards per game.
“I think that we’re better,” he said. “We are bringing in players that are faster and more athletic, so our defense will continue to get better. I think we’re better; I don’t think there is any question. How much better, I don’t know. We’ll find out. We’ve got a tough test in the first game. Coach Young [new defensive coordinator Bill Young] has come in and done a nice job with the scheme. He has jelled with the three other coaches on that side of the ball.”
Postscript: A few things from Friday’s UGA practice. . . .
– Caleb King remains sidelined with the hamstring injury he suffered Aug. 12, and there now is a question about whether he will make the trip to Stillwater for the opener.
“We’re not taking anybody on the plane unless we think they can play that game and help us win,” coach Mark Richt said. “If we don’t think he has any chance of playing, he won’t go. If we think he’s got a chance of playing, he’ll be on the plane.”
Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said they hope King will be able to practice Monday, although Richt noted: “Hamstrings are just funny things. . . . We’re hopeful that he’s ready to practice early next week, but I don’t know how he’s going to feel.”
Said Bobo: “It’s hard to prepare for him in the game plan when he’s not practicing, so hopefully he can get out there and practice Monday.”
If King isn’t available for the opener, Richt said walk-on Kalvin Daniels would be the No. 3 tailback behind starter Samuel and No. 2 Carlton Thomas. That puts Daniels, for now, ahead of highly touted freshman Washaun Ealey.
“I talked to Washaun today about: Keep competing,” Richt said. “Because three games down the road, you might be starting in this league, so you got to keep pushing, keep going. Sometimes kids will look at that depth chart and say, ‘My gosh, there is no chance.’ But two weeks later, you might be ‘it’ or at least be getting every other rep in practice. I just wanted to help remind him and all the young guys not to count yourself out, because things can change in a hurry. I don’t want them to lose the competitive edge.”
Richt said Ealey isn’t slated to play on special teams in the opener.
– Bobo seems to like the variety of the 6-2, 224-pound Samuel and the 5-7, 180-pound Thomas at tailback.
“You look at a lot of good teams across the country — college and pro levels — and a lot of them have two backs,” Bobo said. “One’s a changeup guy, and the other’s a powerful move-the-chains guy. I think it’s a great asset to have those two guys who are a little bit different.”
– Offensive lineman Chris Davis missed practice Friday with a sprained ankle. Richt said he expects Davis back at practice Monday. “We think he’ll be ready” for the opener, Richt said.
Davis, the No. 1 left guard, had been working at center recently because Ben Jones, the starting center, also is out with a sprained ankle. Kevin Perez worked at No. 1 center Friday.
Richt said he still expects Jones to return to practice early next week and to play at Oklahoma State.