NCF Nation: Washaun Ealey

In Georgia, they call the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry “Clean Old-Fashioned Hate” because of the mutual dislike between the two schools.

The dislike remains as strong as ever, but the rivalry has lost some of its luster since Mark Richt became Georgia’s coach in 2001. The Bulldogs (9-2) are 12-1 against the Yellow Jackets (9-2) under Richt, and it will be an upset if they lose this week. Richt’s tenure is full of close games, however, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see another hotly contested matchup between the two rivals.

ESPN football writers Matt Fortuna and David Ching break down the classic ACC-SEC rivalry below:

[+] EnlargeJustin Thomas
Daniel Shirey/Getty ImagesWhile Justin Thomas has shown an ability to throw the ball, Georgia Tech's offensive gameplan still involves pounding its opposition on the ground.
Key to victory for Georgia Tech:There is nothing fancy on the agenda of the Yellow Jackets entering Athens: They must win the turnover battle. Georgia Tech is tied for No. 9 nationally in turnover margin (plus-10); Georgia is No. 2 (plus-16). The difference between the two teams is that the Bulldogs have a pretty good defense, one that is ranked No. 13 nationally. The same cannot exactly be said for the Jackets (61st nationally), who have made up for that by regularly taking the ball away. The triple-option offense, of course, is only painful for the opposition to defend when it's efficient, as Georgia Tech can shorten the game and limit the other offense's scoring opportunities.

Key to victory for Georgia: Sure, Tech is more versatile on offense this season, but the No. 1 task in beating the Jackets is slowing down its option rushing game. Tech ranks third nationally with 327.9 rushing yards per game. Tech is better at passing -- Georgia learned that lesson the hard way last season -- but the Jackets won’t bother putting the ball in the air if their running game is moving the chains and eating clock. Georgia has to keep Justin Thomas, Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey on the sidelines as long as possible.

X-factor for Georgia Tech:Georgia Tech's offense is typically capable of beating you with its arm when you least expect it, but this year's outfit can do some serious damage in the passing game. Thomas has surprised everyone under center, and a big key to that has been his favorite target: DeAndre Smelter, a 6-foot-3, 222-pounder who is second in the ACC in yards per catch (21.0).

X-Factor for Georgia: It’s not only on the defensive front to slow down Tech’s running game and keep the Jackets’ offense on the sidelines. If the Bulldogs’ offensive line gives freshman sensation Nick Chubb (161 carries, 1,152 yards, 11 TDs) room to run and quarterback Hutson Mason can put together some long scoring drives, that would be another way to neutralize what Tech does best.

Fortuna’s favorite moment from the rivalry:It's not every day you lose the passing game battle by a 407-19 margin and still win, but that's exactly what happened to Georgia Tech in its 2008 trip to Sanford Stadium. The Jackets beat Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the following spring's NFL Draft, 45-42 behind 409 yards on the ground. It was coach Paul Johnson's first game in the rivalry, and his team came back from 16 down at the half to pull off the upset and break a seven-game losing streak in the series. It is Georgia Tech's only win in the rivalry in the last 13 years.

Ching’s favorite moment from the rivalry: I covered this game nine times and there were plenty of memorable moments on the field: Tony Taylor, Paul Oliver and Mohamed Massaquoi’s heroics in Georgia’s 2006 comeback win; the “We Run This State” game where Georgia backs Caleb King and Washaun Ealey combined for 349 rushing yards in 2009; a wild 2010 contest that Georgia eventually won 42-34; last year’s double-overtime classic where Tech broke out to a 20-0 lead and the Bulldogs rallied back to win 41-34. But the moment I remember most probably also came in the 2008 game. It was when beloved radio announcer Larry Munson -- who had retired earlier that season -- made his final appearance at Sanford Stadium and Georgia’s fans chanted the 86-year-old legend’s name during an in-game ceremony honoring his four decades as the Bulldogs’ play-by-play man. It was cool to see the fans show their appreciation to a man who had enriched their lives for so many years.

Signing day booms and busts revisited

February, 6, 2013
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There are always surprises and disappointments in every signing class.

It’s just the nature of the business, although I’m not sure it’s politically correct to refer to recruiting as a business. At least, not in the SEC.

Anyway, with most of the hay in the barn from national signing day 2013, keep in mind that it’s impossible to evaluate prospects only hours after their letters of intent are faxed in. So much can happen -- both good and bad -- over the next couple of years.

If you don’t believe so, here’s a look back at the “best surprises” and “biggest disappointments” for all 14 SEC teams going back four years ago to the 2009 signing class.

ALABAMA

[+] EnlargeChance Warmack
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's Chance Warmack developed into one of college football's top offensive linemen.
Best surprise: OG Chance Warmack (Atlanta)

Warmack was not an ESPN 150 prospect, and 34 other players were ranked ahead of him that year in the state of Georgia. The home-state Bulldogs didn’t recruit him, but he landed at Alabama and became a three-year starter for the Tide and established himself this past season as the most dominant interior offensive lineman in college football.

Biggest disappointment: WR Kendall Kelly (Gadsen, Ala.)

Ranked as the No. 7 receiver in the country by ESPN, Kelly moved to defensive back, experienced some health issues and wound up taking a medical hardship.

ARKANSAS

Best surprise: WR Cobi Hamilton (Texarkana, Texas)

Unranked among the top 40 receivers nationally, Hamilton didn’t get an offer from Texas until two weeks prior to signing day. He stuck with the Hogs and blossomed in Bobby Petrino’s offense. Hamilton led the SEC this past season with 1,335 receiving yards and caught 18 career touchdown passes.

Biggest disappointment: CB Darius Winston (Helena, Ark.)

Winston was the most coveted in-state prospect since Darren McFadden and ranked by ESPN as the No. 3 cornerback in the country. But he never developed into a full-time starter at Arkansas and struggled with consistency. He was injured for part of this past season, his final one in a Hogs uniform.

AUBURN

Best surprise: WR Emory Blake (Austin, Texas)

Blake was ranked as the No. 73 receiver in the country by ESPN and chose Auburn on signing day over Texas Tech and Colorado. He finished his career as Auburn’s fifth all-time receiver with 128 catches and 16 touchdown receptions.

Biggest disappointment: QB Tyrik Rollison (Sulphur Springs, Texas)

Rollison was a Parade All-American and considered one of the Tigers’ prized signees in the 2009 class. He redshirted his first season, and after being suspended for the Outback Bowl, transferred to Sam Houston State that next spring and then to Tyler (Texas) Junior College.

FLORIDA

Best surprise: OG Jon Halapio (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

The Gators got Halapio as the No. 144-ranked offensive guard in the country, and when he committed in May, he had very few offers. Now heading into his senior season at Florida, Halapio has 33 starts under his belt and is one of the leaders of the Gators' offense.

Biggest disappointment: DT Gary Brown (Quincy, Fla.)

Brown was ranked as the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country by ESPN, but reported to school overweight and redshirted his first season. He was dismissed that next February without ever playing a down at Florida following his arrest for allegedly slapping a woman at a party.

GEORGIA

Best surprise: S Shawn Williams (Damascus, Ga.)

Williams was not ranked among the top 30 prospects in the state of Georgia. He made his mark initially on special teams and then emerged as the Bulldogs’ enforcer in the secondary from his safety position. He was second on the team with 98 tackles this past season.

Biggest disappointment: RB Washaun Ealey (Twin City, Ga.)

Ealey was an ESPN 150 prospect and ranked as the No. 8 running back in the country. He led the Bulldogs in rushing each of his first two seasons, but a pair of suspensions landed him in hot water with coach Mark Richt. Ealey was encouraged to move on following his sophomore season and wound up transferring to Jacksonville State.

KENTUCKY

Best surprise: OG Larry Warford (Richmond, Ky.)

Not ranked among the top 50 guard prospects in the country, Warford established himself as one of the top guards in the SEC the past two seasons and earned All-SEC recognition as a senior.

Biggest disappointment: QB Morgan Newton (Carmel, Ind.)

An ESPN 150 prospect, Newton made the SEC All-Freshman Team his first season. But his career never took off from there, and he was plagued by a shoulder injury in 2011. He served mainly as a backup this past season and finished his career with 15 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

LSU

Best surprise: DT Bennie Logan (Coushatta, La.)

Logan was ranked as the No. 72 defensive end in the country, and LSU initially offered him as a grayshirt. But a firm offer came in the weeks leading up to signing day, and Logan blossomed into one of the SEC’s top defensive tackles each of the past two seasons.

Biggest disappointment: DT Chris Davenport (Mansfield, La.)

Davenport was one of 10 ESPN 150 prospects LSU signed in 2009, and he was ranked as the No. 7 defensive tackle in the country. Some had him ranked as a five-star prospect, but he was never able to crack the defensive line rotation at LSU and eventually moved to offensive line. He transferred to Tulane after this past season without ever starting a game at LSU.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

[+] EnlargeJohnthan Banks
Spruce Derden/US PresswireJohnthan Banks went from unnoticed out of high school to arguably the nation's top defensive back.
Best surprise: CB Johnthan Banks (Maben, Miss)

Banks’ only scholarship offer was to Mississippi State. He was from a tiny town in Mississippi and flew under the radar, but wound up being a four-year starter and won the Jim Thorpe Award this past season as the top defensive back in college football. He finished with 16 career interceptions to tie the Bulldogs' all-time record.

Biggest disappointment: RB Montrell Conner (Monroe, La.)

Conner had offers from USC, Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee and was ranked as the No. 7 running back prospect in the country by ESPN. He redshirted his first season and left the program in August of that next year. He attended junior college in 2010 and then signed with Troy.

MISSOURI

Best surprise: RB Kendial Lawrence (Rockwall, Texas)

Lawrence picked Missouri over SMU, Louisville and Iowa State and was ranked by ESPN as the No. 100 running back in the country. He capped a solid career at Missouri this past season by rushing for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Biggest disappointment: QB Blaine Dalton (Blue Springs, Mo.)

A dual-threat quarterback and one of the top prospects in the state of Missouri, Dalton enrolled in school early. But he was arrested twice in less than four months and dismissed from the team before he ever played in a game.

OLE MISS

Best surprise: LB Mike Marry (Largo, Fla.)

Ranked as the No. 94 prospect in the state of Florida and unranked in the ESPN 150, Marry has been one of the leaders of the Ole Miss defense the past two seasons from his middle linebacker position. He had 10.5 tackles for loss this past season to finish second on the team. A three-star prospect, Marry picked Ole Miss over Duke, Iowa State and South Florida.

Biggest disappointment: WR Pat Patterson (Macon, Miss.)

Ole Miss beat several big-name teams, including Alabama, to get Patterson, an ESPN 150 prospect and widely considered the top prospect in the state of Mississippi that year. He showed flashes as a true freshman, but couldn’t stay out of trouble off the field and was dismissed prior to his sophomore season after catching just 12 career passes.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Best surprise: S D.J. Swearinger (Greenwood, S.C.)

A three-star prospect, Swearinger was originally committed to Tennessee, but backed off that pledge after Phillip Fulmer was fired and signed with South Carolina. Swearinger ended up being a three-year starter for the Gamecocks and finished second on the team in tackles each of the past two seasons. He was a second-team All-SEC selection this past season.

Biggest disappointment: RB Jarvis Giles (Tampa, Fla.)

An ESPN 150 prospect and ranked as the No. 6 running back in the country, Giles left the team early during his sophomore season after plummeting down the depth chart behind Marcus Lattimore and a few others.

TENNESSEE

Best surprise: WR Zach Rogers (Nashville, Tenn.)

Even though he wasn’t nearly as heralded as most of the signees in the Vols’ 2009 class, Rogers emerged this past season as one of the more underrated receivers in the SEC with 32 catches, including seven touchdowns, and averaged 15.3 yards per catch.

Biggest disappointment: RB Bryce Brown (Wichita, Kan.)

Brown has some serious competition for this dubious distinction. There were multiple disappointments in the Vols’ 2009 class. But as ESPN’s No. 2-ranked running back prospect in the country, Brown gets the nod. He rushed for 460 yards as a freshman, but sat out that next spring practice and never played again for the Vols after Lane Kiffin left for USC.

TEXAS A&M

Best surprise: WR Ryan Swope (Austin, Texas)

Swope was more of a running back coming out of high school and ranked by ESPN as the No. 116 athlete in the country. He carved out a splendid career at Texas A&M in becoming the Aggies’ all-time leading receiver. In his last two seasons, he caught 161 passes, including 19 touchdowns.

Biggest disappointment: DT Chris Henderson (Dallas)

Henderson was ranked by ESPN as the No. 16 defensive tackle in the country, but failed to qualify academically and didn’t make it to campus.

VANDERBILT

Best surprise: RB Zac Stacy (Centerville, Ala.)

Alabama and Auburn both passed on Stacy, who was ranked by ESPN as the No. 98 running back prospect nationally. He finished his Vanderbilt career this past season by rushing for 1,000 yards for the second straight year and set the Commodores’ all-time rushing record in the process.

Biggest disappointment: WR Brady Brown (Argyle, Texas)

Brown was ranked among the top 60 prospects in the state of Texas, and the Commodores were hoping he could add some punch to their passing game. He suffered a leg injury as a freshman and wound up leaving the program following the 2011 season without catching any career passes.

Gurley and Marshall are a reliable duo

September, 19, 2012
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Todd Gurley and Keith MarshallAP Photo, Getty ImagesGeorgia running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have been a breath of fresh air at the position.

ATHENS, Ga. – To say that Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon is relieved to see the work true freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have put in is downplaying the significance of their contributions.

For a position that has been so snake bitten the last few years, these two have brought encouragement back to the running back position with their play and their attitudes.

“Relieving is a bit of an understatement,” McClendon said with an enormous smile.

Through three games, they’ve combined for 458 rushing yards and five touchdowns, with Gurley leading the team with 276 of those yards and four scores. But as their fame grows, so does their humility, which is very refreshing to McClendon.

It’s also helps that they’re perfectionists. Their individual skill is unmistakable, but their obsession with correcting and improving the small things has tremendously helped their development.

“Being consistent with all the small stuff is one thing that’s helped those guys to get in the position to make those big runs,” McClendon said. “Obviously, their ability takes over, but their attention to detail is uncanny for the being as young as they are.”

It can be difficult for young players to grasp the importance of fundamentals, especially when they’re used to just grabbing the ball and going. But Gurley and Marshall are different. Their willingness to excel in all areas have helped them become that much more reliable at a position that has seen a truckload of talent disappear over the years.

With former starters like Washaun Ealey, Caleb King and Isaiah Crowell leaving the program within the last year because of off-field issues, there was fear that Gurley and Marshall would become statistics instead of players.

Fortunately for Georgia’s staff, the freshmen had other plans.

“We’re just trying to do the right thing and hope none of that happens to us,” Gurley said.

So, for the first time in a while, Georgia has a backfield it can completely rely on. With Ken Malcome, who opened the season as the starter, banged up, more has been put on the freshmen, and they’ve responded without nerves or hesitation.

“There’s nothing to really be nervous about because we know what to do,” Marshall said.

Center David Andrews has been thoroughly impressed with the kids, as well. He said blocking for them is much easier because they’re both smart and talented.

This offense has seen a significant increase in big plays from the backfield with Gurley and Marshall. Last year, the longest run from a true Georgia running back was a 29-yarder by Crowell.

This year, Gurley and Marshall have combined to rush for seven runs of 20-or-more yards. Gurley has runs of 55, 44 and 38 to go along with a 100-yard kickoff return that went for a touchdown.

“They’re two special guys. There’s no doubt about it,” Andrews said. “We just need them to stay healthy because they’re definitely reliable guys.”

They’re also good friends and roommates, which Gurley said helps them become even better players. Even though they’re fighting for the starting spot at the same position, Gurley said their time together away from the field helps them on it. They pick each other’s brains, give advice and go over technique.

“We have a good relationship, which is hard to come across for people at the same position and are competing (for the starting spot),” Gurley said.

When they have down time, they lighten the mood by playing H.O.R.S.E. in their dorm with a mini basketball hoop, which Gurley says he dominates regularly.

While Gurley has the edge in mini-ball, he wouldn’t be the same without Marshall on the field. The two complement each other with their running styles, as Gurley is the pounder and Marshall is the speedster. It not only frees them up for breathers, but it helps the offense, expanding what it can do.

Both still have a ways to go, but for the first time in a while, the Bulldogs can rely on their backfield to help guide this offense.
Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon has an exact number for the amount of running backs he’d like to use against No. 5 Boise State on Saturday.

“I would like to suit up every stinking one of them,” McClendon said without a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

That would be five -- Richard Samuel, Isaiah Crowell, Ken Malcome, Brandon Harton and Kyle Karempelis. Suspended Carlton Thomas would have made it six.

[+] EnlargeRichard Samuel
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiRichard Samuel, with his six career starts, is the veteran of Georgia's running back corps.
On one hand, it’s nice to have five bodies in the backfield. On the other, those five have a combined six starts in 22 games; all coming courtesy of Samuel, who moved back to running back after a short stint at linebacker. The other four have no game experience.

This isn’t an ideal situation for a team with SEC championship aspirations that must face a Broncos defense that ranked seventh nationally against the run (103.77 yards per game) last year.

The Bulldogs were supposed to return the shifty but troubled Washaun Ealey and senior Caleb King. Ealey left the team in May and King was ruled academically ineligible.

But all is not lost.

Samuel, who will be the Bulldogs’ bruiser at 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, has become a teacher for Georgia’s young runners, and the indications from Athens are that Crowell, the No. 1 running back coming out of high school last year, is legit.

Samuel said his time at linebacker can help him as a running back because of his ability to read defenses faster and know where holes will form. He’s bestowed that knowledge on Crowell and has seen him pick things up faster than he imagined.

“I feel like I can point out things that people who haven't played in this league or haven't gotten any snaps against an opponent and tell them what to look for,” Samuel said.

What he can’t teach is dealing with hype, something Crowell says he’s ignored, but there’s still some diva in him.

Tuesday, Crowell blew the media off, myself included, for close to three hours before Georgia’s sports communication personnel tracked him down at a tutoring appointment and brought him back for interviews just after 10 p.m.

Crowell admitted his time management is an issue, but feels his nerves won’t be Saturday. He’s ready for his first game to be over “as soon as possible” so he can get into the rhythm of the season.

“That’s what I came here for, really, just to play and play early and do whatever I can do to help my team win,” Crowell said.

Numerous fans greet him more than the media, putting more pressure on his plate. He tries to shut it out, and his coaches feel he’s done a good job of focusing on football.

“He has a very, very good understanding of that,” McClendon said. “We have to make sure we keep preaching that to him.”

While five running backs are available, Samuel and Crowell will get the brunt of the carries.

With their different running styles, Samuel expects that he and Crowell will be dynamic together. He envisions his power and Crowell’s speed and elusiveness complementing each other well, forcing Boise State to adjust more on defense, throwing its rhythm off.

For McClendon, it isn’t so much about using two different types of runners, it’s about finding players who can operate the offense best.

“Styles aside, you want two guys who are going to be productive,“ McClendon said. “You want the production that those guys give you, it doesn’t matter what style it is, whether it’s small or big. You want guys who are going to be productive and running your every-down offense.”

Saturday is almost here and McClendon's group is getting restless. It’s out to prove its doubters wrong, but McClendon has stressed to his players to focus on helping the team before helping their reputations.

The image of the running game won’t matter if the Bulldogs get the victory, McClendon said.

“I’m very excited, but the biggest thing is that we have to get there,” he said. “Everyone around is getting a little itchy and ready to play, but you have to make sure you’re doing all the things in the process right in order to get the result that you want on Saturday.”
Georgia is getting some help at running back.

After the departure of Washaun Ealey and the academic ineligibility of Caleb King wrecked the Bulldogs’ running back depth, Georgia's coaching staff is bringing back a familiar face to the position in linebacker Richard Samuel, coach Mark Richt announced Thursday.

Samuel played both linebacker and running back in high school, but wanted to play running back in college, so Georgia signed him as one. In his first two seasons with the Bulldogs, Samuel played in 22 games, including starting six in 2009, and carried the ball 114 times for 528 yards and three touchdowns.

After failing to move up on the depth chart, Samuel moved to linebacker last season, but redshirted due to injuries. He exited this spring in the thick of the competition at one of the middle linebacker spots.

But Georgia is hurting too much at running back and the Bulldogs' staff felt it would benefit this team greatly if Samuel moved back to his first position.

"After discussions with Richard, his family, and our coaches I'm excited that Richard wants to make the move," Richt said. "He's one of our fastest and most powerful players, is very mature, has a strong character and is a man we can count on. I'm proud of him for always putting the team first and I look forward to seeing what he can do."

The Bulldogs need Samuel in the backfield. The top two running backs are gone and outside of incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell, there isn't much excitement at the position. Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome dealt with injuries this spring and even after having a solid spring game, Malcome was moved to fourth on the depth chart entering the offseason.

Crowell has reported to campus, but it will take him some time to adjust. Remember, he just graduated from high school and he has to deal with a boatload of hype. Not to mention it will take him some time to get into college playing shape. Crowell will probably end up being the guy at some point this season, but having Samuel back there to push him will greatly help his development.

"I'm excited about the opportunity at tailback," Samuel said. "I'm ready to do anything that will help the team win."

It might take Samuel some time to adjust back to running back, but having an extra experienced body in the backfield is a relief for Georgia.
Historically, you don't want to be on the losing end of the Georgia-South Carolina matchup.

Since 1992, the loser of this game has failed to make it to the SEC championship game. Surely, Georgia fans remember the 11-2 season in 2007 that featured an early heartbreaking 16-14 loss to the Gamecocks, and South Carolina might have tasted its first SEC championship game in 2005 if not for a 17-15 loss to the Dawgs.

This fall, both teams have the talent to make a title run, and this game should be a major factor in that.

South Carolina, the East's defending champ, will enter the season as the East favorite and returns a solid defensive unit that should feature one of the most ferocious pass-rushing groups in the league. Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery are back on offense and if troubled quarterback Stephen Garcia stays focused, the Gamecocks shouldn't miss a beat.

Georgia coach Mark Richt's seat is hot in Athens and a rash of injuries and transfers this offseason didn't help. The offensive line is hurting and the departures of Washaun Ealey and Caleb King at running back means Georgia will rely on incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell even more.

Compared to the rest of the East, these two teams will have relatively easier championship roads. Neither plays Alabama nor LSU and the Bulldogs don't play Arkansas. Florida and Tennessee, who have even more questions surrounding them, play both Alabama and LSU -- back-to-back.

If Richt wants to cool down his seat, he'll have to make a real run to Atlanta, and that means getting past Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks. An early SEC win should give Georgia the confidence and momentum to attempt that.

On the move in the SEC

June, 9, 2011
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Coaches refer to it as attrition, while another name for it might be roster management.

Every team in the SEC has lost at least one player since the end of last season for a variety of reasons. Some have been kicked off the team for getting into trouble. Others were unhappy with playing time and opted to transfer elsewhere. Academics and injuries have also played a role.

Here's a team-by-team list of some of those players who've left prematurely since the end of last season or were injured and won't be on the field in 2011:

ALABAMA
ARKANSAS
  • TE Ryan Calendar
  • PK Eddie Camara
  • OG Cam Feldt
  • LB Austin Moss
  • C Seth Oxner
  • WR Lance Ray
AUBURN
FLORIDA
  • RB Mike Blakely
  • WR Chris Dunkley
  • CB Janoris Jenkins
  • WR Javares McRoy
GEORGIA
  • LB Marcus Dowtin
  • RB Washaun Ealey
  • WR Logan Gray
  • DE Jeremy Longo
  • S Nick Williams
KENTUCKY
LSU
MISSISSIPPI STATE
  • LB Michael Hunt
  • S Dennis Thames
OLE MISS
  • WR Jesse Grandy
  • LB Clarence Jackson
  • DE Delvin Jones
  • QB Nathan Stanley
SOUTH CAROLINA
TENNESSEE
  • CB Ted Meline
  • RB David Oku
  • C Cody Pope
  • OL Kevin Revis
VANDERBILT
Last season, South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery exploded onto the SEC scene. He nabbed 88 receptions for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns.

He was, and remains, a matchup nightmare for defenders and the fans think he'll continue to push the Gamecocks by selecting him in our poll last week to have the biggest impact in 2011.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
Jeremy Brevard/Icon SMIAlshon Jeffery's size and strength create a matchup nightmare for opponents.
It was a pretty close race. At last count, Jeffery had 28 percent of the vote, with nearly 16,900 people voting.

Jeffery's impact this fall could be even bigger if senior quarterback Stephen Garcia doesn't return. Having a young quarterback like sophomore Connor Shaw taking over the responsibilities at quarterback will make getting the ball in Jeffery's hands that much more important. If there is a target out there that will make a young quarterback comfortable, it's Jeffery.

At 6-foot-4, 233 pounds, Jeffery can out-muscle just about any defender he faces. And with that height, even I could just chuck the ball up in his direction and have him go up and snatch my duck of a pass.

Now, if Jeffery isn't able to duplicate last season's production, that could put a lot of pressure on both Shaw and South Carolina's running game. Marcus Lattimore is a beast in the backfield, but if you take the Gamecocks' top receiving target out, that will allow teams to bear down on the run more and could complicate things for South Carolina's offense.

But the player I would have gone with is Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell. Yes, he hasn't taken a college rep and is just finishing up high school, but things are setting up for him to get a bunch of carries for the Bulldogs this fall. Crowell has tremendous speed and athleticism and if he quickly catches onto the offense, I wouldn't be shocked if the starting spot was his by the midway point in the season.

Former starter Washaun Ealey left the team earlier this week and Georgia has a stable of unproven runners in its backfield. Crowell could be the key to the Bulldogs' running game.

Crowell came in fourth, with 17 percent of the vote.

Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower placed second, with 22 percent of the vote, and Arkansas running back Knile Davis was third, with 21 percent.

Hightower, who is finally healthy, will be called upon to make the Crimson Tide's defense much more aggressive, especially in the pass rush. He'll also be looked at as one of the leaders of the unit.

Most of the attention at Arkansas has been on the passing game, but Davis' impact will surely be felt. Though redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Wilson isn't expected to miss a beat filling in for Ryan Mallett, having Davis in the backfield will make him that much more effective.

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray took 13 percent of the vote. Bray really came on strong toward the end of the 2010 season and has the tools to make the Volunteers' passing game imposing this fall.
Washaun Ealey doesn't sound like someone who's broken up about leaving Georgia.

In an interview Tuesday with Gentry Estes of Dawgs247.com, Ealey said he knew about two weeks ago that he wouldn't be playing for the Bulldogs next season.

[+] EnlargeWashaun Ealey
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWashaun Ealey gained 1,528 yards and rushed for 14 touchdowns in two seasons at Georgia.
"I just wasn't feeling the vibe, I guess," said Ealey, who was given his unconditional release from the program on Monday by Georgia coach Mark Richt, who called it a mutual parting of ways.

"I just feel like, I guess, the University of Georgia wasn't right for me. I'm just looking out for my family back home and thinking about my future and where I want to be in 10 years. ... I just felt like I want to be able to stay focused. For me to be successful, I probably need to go somewhere I can focus."

Ealey led the Bulldogs with 811 rushing yards last season and averaged 5.2 yards per carry, but he'd also been suspended twice during his career. He conceded that he would have done a better job of avoiding trouble if he had it to do over again, but added, "I feel like everything happens for a reason, so I probably wouldn't change anything."

With heralded true freshman Isaiah Crowell joining an already crowded backfield in the fall, Ealey said he wasn't interested in sharing carries with that many different backs. Senior Caleb King, junior Carlton Thomas and redshirt freshman Ken Malcome all return for the 2011 season.

"I'm a person where I want to be a premier back," Ealey said. "If I was to play here, I would have had to share the backfield with Caleb and Carlton also. Then they were going to try to give the freshman, Isaiah, his chance. He probably was going to get some carries at the beginning of the year, too. I just felt like I didn't want to be in that mix of things anymore."
I’d like to think that the departure of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey comes as a surprise, but it doesn’t.

Monday night, the school announced that the junior, who has two years of eligibility left, had been granted his conditional release to transfer to another school for next season.

"Washaun and I have had several conversations in recent weeks," coach Mark Richt said in a statement. "We both have come to the conclusion that a transfer to another institution would be in his best interest."

[+] EnlargeWashaun Ealey
Dale Zanine/US PresswireWashaun Ealey has been cleared to transfer to another school.
Letting go of Ealey the athlete wasn’t easy, but letting go of the person might have been another story.

Off-the-field issues have clouded the 1,528 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in his two seasons at Georgia and have made his school-record five rushing touchdowns he had against Kentucky last season a mere afterthought.

Ealey was suspended for the 2010 season opener after he was arrested for driving with a suspended license and leaving the scene of an accident. In February, he was banned from offseason activities after failing to show up for disciplinary running.

Richt lifted the suspension less than three weeks later, but Ealey was almost a nonfactor during spring practice. A nagging hamstring kept him limited and he missed the spring game. Then, in late April, Richt called out Ealey at the Augusta Bulldog Club meeting.

“Washaun has a ways to go still to show me that he deserves to start or even play right now,” Richt said during the question-and-answer portion of the gathering. “He has a ways to go in my book. We’ll see. I love him, though.”

It looks like Ealey never escaped from Richt’s doghouse, and now he’s without a home at the University of Georgia.

Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing for both sides is yet to be seen, but Ealey’s departure now leaves the Bulldogs in a bind at running back.

Even with Ealey (hardly) around this spring, Georgia didn’t exactly have the most intimidating stable of running backs. Senior Caleb King, who has dealt with his own discipline issues in the past, was solid during practices, but has yet to show that he’s ready to take over as the feature back in Georgia’s offense. In three seasons, King has 1,271 yards and 10 touchdowns, but has yet to break 600 yards in a season.

Redshirt sophomore Carlton Thomas and redshirt freshman Ken Malcome dealt with injuries this spring. Malcome returned for the spring game, scoring the game-winning, 12-yard touchdown and finishing with 39 yards rushing.

Still, none of the aforementioned players broke away from the pack. Each has the talent to be a factor in Georgia’s offense, but none have the skill set or game-changing ability that Ealey had.

But all is not lost. The Bulldogs have one more pup entering the stable this summer. Incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell, who was the nation’s No. 1 running back coming out of high school last fall, could immediately be handed the keys to Georgia’s offense.

He’s that good.

Richt made it clear after Crowell signed that he wouldn’t hesitate to put the ball in Crowell’s hands in the season opener against Boise State in September.

While that’s a lot of pressure to put on a freshman, especially at a position like running back, Crowell has the ability to be an impact player in Georgia’s offense once he steps on campus. He’s explosive out of the backfield, has deadly moves in space and has great vision.

As a senior, he rushed for 1,721 yards and 18 touchdowns on 147 carries.

With Ealey out of the mix, Georgia’s coaching staff will instantly accelerate Crowell’s development to get him ready to compete for the No. 1 spot. That’s a lot to put on a freshman, but if the Bulldogs want to compete for the East title, they have to find a running game.

At this point, Crowell could be their best option.
Georgia assistant coaches Tony Ball and Bryan McClendon received significant pay raises, according to a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ball, Georgia’s wide receivers coach, has been on coach Mark Richt’s staff since 2006 and is set to make $200,000, which is up from the $165,480 he made last year.

McClendon, who joined the Bulldogs' staff as the running backs coach in 2009, was previously one of the lowest-paid SEC assistants. His salary was $90,000 a year, but he will now make $200,000 each year.

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said the raises were results of other schools reaching out to Ball and McClendon. McGarity declined to get into what schools contacted the coaches, but did say that the raises were approved in February and March.

“All I can say is they were legit offers,” McGarity told the AJC. “I think the key is continuity. We had already lost two coaches to other schools. Continuity of staff is important to me and to Mark and we thought it was important to maintain stability, especially.

“They’re well-deserved. Both of these men are tremendous coaches who work very hard and were underpaid, in my opinion. We had some momentum going after recruiting and they had a lot to do with that. All signs are pointing up and we needed to be proactive. We will always be proactive.”

The news of Ball's raise comes just days after the Bulldogs had two wide receivers drafted in the 2011 NFL draft. Junior A.J. Green went fourth overall to the Cincinnati Bengals and senior Kris Durham went in the fourth round to the Seattle Seahawks.

Green, who was arguably the best receiver in the draft, caught 57 passes for 848 yards and nine touchdowns in his shortened 2010 season. He finished his career at Georgia with 166 receptions for 2,619 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Durham was second on the team with 32 catches for 659 yards and three scores. He finished his college career with 64 receptions for 1,109 yards and four touchdowns.

McClendon has a chance to really earn his new paycheck this fall. He has the responsibility of coaching up a talented but unproven receiving group. Junior Tavarres King returns as the most experienced wideout and moved to Green's flanker position this spring. He and quarterback Aaron Murray developed good chemistry this spring and King figures to be the go-to-receiver in Georgia's offense.

Behind him, it's a bit of a mystery. Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten could have the most pure talent of the bunch, but neither has yet to make much of a contribution at Georgia. Brown caught just 11 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown last year, while Wooten snatched seven balls for 41 yards and a score.

The good news for Ball is that both seemed to have their internal light bulbs come on during spring, but the next step is having that carry over to fall.

As for McClendon, he's got a stable of running backs, but inconsistency is an issue. Senior Caleb King made vast improvements in practice, but never really broke away from the rest of the running back pack. Washaun Ealey is easily the most gifted runner, but off-the-field issues have him crammed in Richt's doghouse. For now, we don’t know where Ealey fits in with the running backs.

Next you have Ken Malcome, Carlton Thomas and incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell. Richt didn't hesitate when Crowell signed to say that he could be the guy this fall. Crowell brings great speed, athleticism and strength to the position, but he's young. Malcome and Thomas battled injuries this spring, but Malcome impressed in Georgia's spring game.

Both coaches have their work cut out for them this fall, but getting strong numbers out of their groups will make them well worth the recent investment.

Of note: “Salary actions” were also completed for new offensive line coach Will Friend, who will earn $200,000 this year, and new linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, who will earn $250,000.

Exiting the spring: Georgia

April, 15, 2011
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Spring game: 1 p.m. ET on ESPN3.com

Questions answered: Aaron Murray’s soccer-related ankle injury didn’t get to him this spring. He was sharp and pain free. No worries there. Also, good news came out of the receiving corps where Tavarres King made strides to become the go-to-guy for Murray. He’s replacing A.J. Green at the flanker and held his own during spring practices. Jarvis Jones also eased minds about Justin Houston’s old position at the hybrid outside linebacker/defense end spot. He’s showed that he might have a little bit more athleticism and speed for the position.

Questions unanswered: The running game still remains a mystery. Senior Caleb King stepped up, but didn’t really separate himself from the pack. Washaun Ealey, who returned from a suspension this spring, suffered a hamstring injury late and hasn’t returned to full speed. Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome made plays, but like the other two, they aren’t consistently standing out. The offensive line still appears to be a bit of a trouble spot since losing Trinton Sturdivant at left tackle. Converted guard Cordy Glenn is expected to take over at left tackle, while Justin Anderson could play right tackle. Sophomores Kenarious Gates and Chris Burnette are working with the first team at the guard positions. Inconsistency plagued the safety positions last season for the Bulldogs and injuries there this spring didn’t do much to clear that up.

Spring stars: Defensive end Derrick Lott received a lot of praise from players and coaches this spring. He will be relied upon to be a major contributor for this defense. While the wide receiver position is still a bit of an unknown, Marlon Brown has performed well this spring. He’s underachieved since arriving on campus, but drew high praise for his work this spring. Outside linebacker Cornelius Washington also made some strides this spring, especially with his ability to make big hits on defense. Freshman quarterback Christian LeMay won’t usurp Murray, but he’s impressed his coaches so far.

Of note: Christian Robinson is making the move over to mike linebacker. Safeties Bacarri Rambo (MCL sprain), Jakar Hamilton (concussion) and Marc Deas (hamstring) are all out. … Linebackers Dexter Morant (shoulder) and T.J. Stripling (knee) will be held out of spring practice. … Sanders Commings moved from cornerback to safety. … Safety Alec Ogletree moved to outside linebacker. Cornerback Brandon Boykin, linebacker Christian Robinson, wide receiver Israel Troupe and tight end Aron White could be out for Saturday’s game with injuries.
Georgia’s stable of running backs has the look of breaking out, but it’s yet to find the drive.

The Bulldogs' congested backfield is full of high school stars, but none have been consistent enough to take hold of the position.

There’s redshirt senior Caleb King, who has yet to break the 600-yard mark in a season. Junior Washaun Ealey has the moves and speed to be an elite back, but his off-the-field troubles have impeded his growth as a player.

Next there’s Carlton Thomas and redshirt freshman Ken Malcome, who entered spring as relative unknowns.

[+] EnlargeCaleb King
AP Photo/Mike StewartCaleb King is hoping to make the most of his last season with the Bulldogs.
As the hours dwindle before Saturday’s spring game, the Bulldogs are still waiting for someone to emerge.

What hasn’t helped is that Ealey, who was suspended from the team earlier this year after failing to report to a punishment run, has been slowed during the latter part of the spring by an ankle injury.

What does help is that it sounds like King is finally starting to buy into the program. King was suspended twice in 2010 for off-field issues and was academically ineligible to play in Georgia's 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

King was sickened by the fact that he not only couldn’t play in Georgia’s bowl game, but that he let his teammates down. He even envisioned 2010 being his last memory as a Georgia football player, thinking his chances with the Bulldogs were up.

But King was given another shot and insists his mind is clear and he’s motivated by his mistakes.

“It adds a ton [of motivation] because I’m trying to go out with a bang,” King said. “I have to work hard every day.”

His first trot out for spring practice was the first moment he realized this was his last chance to do something for the Bulldogs. He squandered away his first three seasons on the field and he’s not looking to repeat that or any of his other mistakes.

Before Ealey went down, King said the two had a healthy rivalry in practice. Both knew the criticism was pouring in about them and both made conscious efforts to erase those doubts this spring. When one fooled the defense, the other looked to embarrass it. When one broke a 20-yard touchdown, the other went for 30.

“We pretty much feed off each other,“ King said. “Every time he has a big play I’ll try to outdo him and I know he feels the same way.”

Running backs coach Bryan McClendon said he hasn’t seen a complete transformation from his backs, but mentally his guys looked more focused.

“You definitely see guys that have matured,” McClendon said. “You see guys that know they can’t take much of this stuff for granted.”

King and Ealey are looking to reinvent themselves on and off the field, but they are also looking to keep their spots. With the nation’s top running back prospect in Isaiah Crowell enrolling this summer, nothing is guaranteed for the two. Coach Mark Richt even said Crowell could compete for the No. 1 spot immediately.

That motivates King, but it doesn’t intimidate him. He’s excited for the young pup to get on campus so he can mentor him and help steer him away from the lifestyle King chose.

“I can teach him wrong from right and pretty much everything I did I can tell him not to do,” King said.

But King isn’t concerned about Crowell’s arrival just yet. He’s worked too hard to look over his shoulder at this point. King wants his game to improve and he wants his teammates to follow suit. So far, he thinks the cluster is on the right path.

“We don’t have a choice but to work hard,” King said. “We have to come out [and perform well] this season because all the hard work won’t be for no reason.”

Ealey suspended from team activities

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Georgia coach Mark Richt said the day touted freshman running back Isaiah Crowell signed with the Bulldogs that Crowell wouldn't have to wait long to get his first carry next season.

At this rate, Crowell might get all of the carries.

Sources told ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach that rising junior running back Washaun Ealey has been suspended from all team activities after failing to show up for a punishment run last week. Ealey was also suspended for the Bulldogs' opener this past season after leaving the scene of accident and driving with a suspended license.

Caleb King, Ealey's partner in the Georgia backfield this past season, would also seem to be on thin ice. He was academically ineligible for the Liberty Bowl after being suspended for two games during the season for off-the-field transgressions.

It was obvious from the beginning that Crowell was a huge target. After all, he was the No. 1 running back prospect in the country.

But now, it looks like he will be the centerpiece of the Bulldogs' running game the day he sets foot on campus.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 9

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Two of the best teams in the league are off this week. Alabama and LSU both take a break before getting it on next week in Baton Rouge.

The top team in the league, not to mention the top team in the BCS standings, hits the road. Auburn travels to Ole Miss on Saturday.

Here’s a look at what to watch this week in the SEC:

1. Feeling the grind: This will be the ninth straight week that Auburn has played without a bye. It’s about this time that the proverbial piano really starts to jump on an SEC team’s back when it hasn’t had a bye. The Tigers have attempted to play more guys on defense. But with some of the injuries they’ve suffered, there simply isn’t a lot of depth at linebacker or in the secondary. Cornerback T’Sharvan Bell, who didn’t play last week with a hamstring pull, is probably a game-time decision this week. Outside linebacker Daren Bates is also a question mark after injuring his shoulder in the LSU game.

2. Taking to the road: The schedule has been about as travel friendly as it gets to this point for Auburn. This will be only the Tigers’ third game away from Jordan-Hare Stadium this season when they travel to Ole Miss on Saturday. They’ve been a different team on the road, although most teams are. Auburn held on to beat Mississippi State 17-14 in Starkville the second week of the season. Cam Newton was held to 70 rushing yards on 18 carries in that game and didn’t score a rushing touchdown. Three weeks ago, Auburn nipped Kentucky 37-34 in Lexington on Wes Byrum’s 24-yard field goal on the last play of the game. So both of the Tigers’ road ventures this season have been harrowing.

[+] EnlargeJeremiah Masoli
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireAuburn will have its hands full with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
3. Masoli’s momentum: Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is coming off his best game of the season in last week’s 38-24 loss to Arkansas. Auburn hasn’t faced a dual-threat quarterback of his caliber this season. Masoli racked up a career-high 425 yards in total offense against the Hogs, including 327 yards passing and 98 yards rushing. He’s one of only four quarterbacks in the country to average at least 50 rushing yards per game and 180 passing yards per game. Auburn has given up 14 touchdown passes, which is the most in the SEC.

4. King’s return: Georgia tailback Caleb King returns to the lineup for the Bulldogs after being suspended the past two weeks. They may need him, too, because Washaun Ealey has been slowed this week in practice by a knee injury. He said he sprained his MCL in the fourth quarter of last week’s 44-31 win over Kentucky. Ealey has rushed for 100 yards in each of the two games King missed and scored five touchdowns last week. Still, Georgia would prefer to have both of them healthy and keep a fresh back in the game at all times. Ealey said he will definitely play against Florida, although he may not start.

5. Passing the buck: Florida hasn’t had much success throwing the football this season and enters Saturday’s game ninth in the SEC in pass efficiency. Quarterback John Brantley is averaging just 180.8 passing yards per game and has thrown six touchdown passes and five interceptions. The Gators have struggled to get much of anything going down the field in the passing game, but that’s where Georgia has been vulnerable. The Bulldogs are 11th in the league in pass efficiency defense and have given up 12 touchdown passes, the third most in the league.

6. On the receiving end: David Paschall of The Chattanooga Time Fress Press asked Kentucky coach Joker Phillips this week if he could ever remember a season when there were this many elite receivers in the league. Phillips agreed that you go up against one every week and that's what sets this season apart is all the long, athletic receivers in the league. Phillips’ top playmaker at Kentucky, Randall Cobb, is one of the best do-it-all players in college football. But picking the top two receivers in this league right now would be an impossible task when you start trying to sort it out among Alshon Jeffery, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Greg Childs, Joe Adams, Chris Matthews, Darvin Adams and Cobb.

7. Finishing the deal: It’s that time of the season again for South Carolina, the time of the season that hasn’t been especially good to the Gamecocks. They face Tennessee on Saturday night in the first of three straight SEC games that will determine whether or not the Gamecocks will make their first-ever trip to the SEC championship game. Their fate is in their own hands. History is working against them. Going back to the 2000 season, they’re just 7-22 in SEC games played the final weekend of October and extending through the month of November. In the past four years, they’re just 2-10 during that same span. Simply, they haven’t finished very well, and that has to change if the Gamecocks want to be in Atlanta on Dec. 4.

8. Distracted Hogs? Arkansas starting defensive tackle DeQuinta Jones was arrested this week and charged with marijuana possession. The Hogs are pretty deep at the tackle position, although the distraction of having a player arrested during game week on drug charges is never ideal. The Hogs could also be without junior receiver Joe Adams, who’s been slowed by an ankle injury and has missed the past two days of practice. Greg Childs was also nursing an ankle injury suffered in last week’s Ole Miss game, but returned to practice Wednesday and looks like he’ll be able to play.

9. Slowing down the Cats: Mississippi State has tackled well for most of this season. The exception was last week’s 29-24 win over UAB when defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said the Bulldogs missed 11 tackles, including four on one play. They look to extend their winning streak to six straight games Saturday when they take on a Kentucky team that has specialized in making people miss. Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said he’s still unsure if leading rusher Derrick Locke will be able to play after missing the past two weeks with a shoulder stinger. But Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews have been two of the most dynamic receiving threats in the league, and Mike Hartline is the SEC’s hottest quarterback right now after passing for more than 700 yards and eight touchdowns in his past two games.

10. Kitchings’ debut: Next up is Des Kitchings. He takes over a Vanderbilt offense that has been held to seven points in the past two games and has been painful to watch for most of the past two seasons. The Commodores are last or next to last in the SEC in just about every major offensive category. Coach Robbie Caldwell decided it was time to give Kitchings a shot and elevated him to offensive coordinator this week from his position as running backs coach. One of Kitchings’ priorities Saturday against Arkansas and for the rest of this season will be to generate some drives and keep the offense on the field. The Commodores are 118th nationally in time of possession. Look for running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy to take on increased roles.

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