Ronnie Powell. Michael Cooper. Tony Milton.
Until the end of the 2003 season, the Georgia Bulldogs relied on these three players to carry the load. I admittedly don’t remember much of the 2003 season (it was my freshman year, you figure it out why), but I certainly don’t remember Ronnie Powell at all. Who was he?
I do remember that Kregg Lumpkin came on towards the end of the season. The heralded running back who was the second best tailback in the 2003 class, behind one Reggie Bush, was hurt during the next fall camp and had to miss the 2004 season. He was really never quite the same after that.
Going into 2004, Danny Ware was the starter, but Thomas Brown eventually became the team’s leading rusher. In 2005, Danny Ware, Thomas Brown and the returning Kregg Lumpkin again split carries. Of the three main tailbacks in 2005, there were 314 carries for 1563 yards. Brown accounted for 46% of the carries and 47% of the yards.
2006 saw Thomas Brown’s season cut short due to tearing his ACL. Lumpkin had twice as many carries as Ware and roughly twice as many yards.
In 2007, Knowshon Moreno emerged as the team’s primary back, but split time with Brown pretty evenly early in the season before Brown was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Upon Brown’s return, he served as a nice complimentary back to Moreno. In 2008, Knowshon was the primary tailback.
In 2009, Caleb King and Richard Samuel were going to be the stars, but it wasn’t until the LSU game that Washaun Ealey got the chance, and in both 2009 and 2010, Ealey became the primary back. In both these seasons he got in the 700-800 range of rushing yards.
2011 saw Isaiah Crowell get the lion’s share of the carries early in the season, but injury and suspension caused backs like Ken Malcome, Carlton Thomas, Brandon Harton to get significant playing time. Even Brandon Smith got the start at tailback against Georgia Tech.
Even in Richt’s first season, injured Musa Smith had to be replaced with Vernon Haynes for a good bit that season.
So looking back, only in 2002, 2007 and 2008 did Georgia have a primary tailback who would get the bulk of the carries in a game. According to Phil Steele, UGA has only had 3 tailbacks to go over 1,000 yards in a season since 1992 (the aforementioned seasons). That was Musa Smith (2002) and Knowshon (2007-2008).
So why tell you all of this? It just illustrates the point that aside from when Thomas Brown was here, there really hasn’t been a settled back in Athens in a long time. In 2003 there were a bunch of scrubs going out there. 2006 saw an injury to the most consistent player in that position. 2009, 2010 and 2011 saw injuries off the field trouble dampen what could be successful and consistent seasons. Even with Ealey, he was a locker room cancer and always seemed to fumble in key moments (Kentucky, South Carolina and Mississppi State losses come to mind).
The fact that again in 2012 there are questions surrounding the tailbacks should come to no surprise to anyone who follows the Bulldogs closely as we all do.
Back to Thomas Brown: how much do we miss that guy? Came in, got 700-800 yards per season, excpet when he got hurt. But he worked hard during his rehab and came back quicker than expected. He was never in any off the field issues. He just worked hard and ran the damn ball. And wore clear tennis shoes and different colored socks.