ATLANTA — Isaiah Crowell’s debut featured equal amounts of fizzle and flash.
The highly-touted first-year freshman made a few sparks, but nothing caught fire as Boise State beat Georgia 35-21 on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
To be fair to Crowell, he wasn’t the only Georgia running back to struggle behind a line that failed to open many holes, especially in the first half. Crowell had 60 yards on 15 carries and no touchdowns. But Georgia’s leading rusher was defensive back Brandon Boykin who scored on an 80-yard end-around.
“I was kind of nervous at first but it was a good experience,” Crowell said. “It was good to get my feet wet and after the first play, I didn’t feel as nervous.”
Crowell entered on Georgia’s second possession with 11:49 left in the first quarter. He served as a decoy on a play-action pass from Aaron Murray to Marlon Brown for a 5-yard gain on his first play. The next snap Crowell tripped in the backfield and was stopped for a 2-yard loss. An incomplete pass ended the possession as the Bulldogs gained three yards in three plays.
“I think my feet got caught up with Aaron a little bit,” Crowell said. “But we got it working in the end.”
Crowell came to Georgia as the most highly-touted freshman probably since Herschel Walker. In Walker’s first game as a Bulldog, he ran 24 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns in a 16-15 win at Tennessee in 1980. Crowell wasn’t even the top rusher for Georgia as cornerback Brandon Boykin had 80 yards and a touchdown on a first-half end-around.
“It was tough to find some holes out there,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Isaiah did about as well as he could.”
Although Crowell wasn’t a game changer on Saturday, he showed reason for optimism. After he recovered from some initial jitters, he displayed an ability to break tackles and finish runs. But Crowell, like the rest of the Georgia running backs, didn’t have much space to work with. The Bulldogs gained 137 yards as a team with 80 of that coming off of Boykin’s single carry.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of space to run in,” Georgia running back Richard Samuel said. “We tried to make things happen out of nothing. Isaiah did well. He made some people miss and ran downhill. He runs aggressively.”
When the game was still in doubt, Crowell had a busy first half with 10 rushes but only 34 yards and 3.4-yard average. His best runs came out of the I-formation with a fullback leading the way. But as the second half progressed and Boise State ‘s lead fluctuated between two and three touchdowns, Georgia moved away from its running game in favor of passing.
“I was tough to find holes,” Crowell said. “Boise did a good job making it to the ball. Overall, it was a good experience but we made some mistakes.”
Crowell’s best stretch came in the third quarter when the Bulldogs drove for what would become the Bulldogs’ second touchdown of the game. He had a 12-yard run as the Bulldogs drove to the 50.
After a false start penalty pushed the Bulldogs to third-and-16 from midfield, Crowell ran a draw for nine yards. Georgia got a second chance as an offside penalty by Boise State gave the Bulldogs a fourth-and-2 from the 36. Murray hit Orson Charles with a 36-yard touchdown to pull Georgia within 28-14 with 1:19 left in the third quarter.
Crowell showed some signs for optimism for the future in Georgia ‘s fourth possession when he ran for back-to-back gains of six and seven yards out of the I-formation. Crowell also had a 6-yard run in the drive. But when Georgia faced short-yardage inside the Boise State 30, the Bulldogs gained one yard on two snaps and turned the ball over on downs at the Broncos’ 26-yard line.