This season, however, Georgia’s running backs might be the foundation of Mike Bobo’s offense.
It took a while to find their footing, but by season’s end Caleb King and Washaun Ealey proved to be one of the most explosive backfield combos in the SEC, and as the Bulldogs prepare for life with another inexperienced quarterback running the offense, the pressure is on Georgia’s tailbacks to ease the transition.
“Georgia has always been heavy running the ball, and I think Coach Bobo would like to go back to that,” Ealey said. “And having two backs that can accomplish that, that’s probably a big goal this season.”
The goals for this season are all big for Ealey and King, including a pretty hefty expectation for their personal stats.
“We’ve talked about it, and we’re both pushing for 1,000 a piece,” King said. “I think we can do it.”
King has good reason for optimism, even if the lofty goal might seem slightly out of reach.
While the overall numbers won’t jump off the page, King and Ealey actually combined for some of the more impressive numbers of any running back duo a year ago. For the season, the two tailbacks combined for 1,311 yards rushing – just 89 shy of the total posted by Knowshon Moreno during his All-American season a year earlier.
More impressive, however, was just how Ealey and King went about tallying their big numbers. The duo combined to miss seven games, with Ealey sitting out the first four as coaches considered a possible redshirt, and King missing three throughout the year due to injuries. Each of the tailbacks earned 10 carries or more in just seven of the Bulldogs’ 13 games.
But what took a while to get going ended with a flurry of production. Both tailbacks tallied at least 60 yards rushing in each of Georgia’s final five games of the season, including a record-setting 349 yards rushing in the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech.
“I believe me and him built the momentum to carry into this year, so we can bust out like we did at the end of last year,” King said. “I believe we’re going to be a great one-two punch.”
If King is correct and the momentum from 2009 carries over into a similar pace this season, that 1,000-yard mark for each tailback might not be out of reach.
King averaged 5.2 yards on his 114 carries last year, while Ealey averaged 5.7 yards on 125 rushing attempts. If each player were to maintain that same average per carry, but see a boost in rushing attempts to 15 per game, King would end the season with about 1,014 yards and Ealey would tally 1,111.
So the way Ealey sees it, aiming for 1,000 might even be setting the bar a bit low. After all, last year’s success shouldn’t just be maintained. It should be a boost to an even better season this time around.
“I feel more comfortable just in the offense,” Ealey said. “I know the offense better, and I feel like I know the blocking schemes a lot better this year.”
The same is true for King, who sat out virtually all of fall camp and missed the first two weeks of the season with a hamstring injury, before missing another game midseason with a concussion and playing for three weeks with a broken jaw.
In fact, after an injury-shortened senior season in high school, a redshirt year at Georgia, a long freshman campaign on the bench and his injury-ravaged 2009, this marks the first season in four years that King is feeling like things are settled and the future is bright.
“I know where I fit on the team and I feel comfortable with what I’m doing,” King said. “This is pretty much the first spring I could feel comfortable and just let everything loose.”
Now it’s just a matter of Bobo turning them loose, Ealey said, and he doesn’t think that will be a problem. The success he and King enjoyed against Tech last year combined with the run-heavy offense employed by national champion Alabama provides ample evidence that the ground game blazes a clear path to victories.
“I think it’s a very big deal running the ball,” Ealey said. “Every great team runs the ball. We’re a major key to this team’s success, and for us to keep winning, me and Caleb are going to have to run the ball.”
And that leads to what is the overriding goal for Georgia’s backfield duo – far more important than that arbitrary 1,000-yard marker.
Ealey and King want to win, and they know their performance will have a significant impact on how often that happens. In the five games in which both tailbacks totaled at least 60 yards on the ground last year, Georgia was 4-1, with only a turnover-filled debacle against Kentucky providing a blemish on the record.
This season, blemishes won’t be acceptable, Ealey said. He and King have had ample time to iron out the wrinkles. This season’s goals are too big for mistakes.
“We’ve just been talking about gaining yards,” Ealey said. “We know we left a lot of yards out on the field last year. If both of us get 1,000 yards, that would be great, but really we just want to win a national championship.”