Friends have called Georgia tailback Caleb King leading up to Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech asking what he will write on his arms a year after "I Run This State" turned out not to be hollow words.
Georgia running back Washaun Ealey, above, ran for 183 yards in the Bulldogs’ upset last season of then-No. 7 Georgia Tech. Fellow back Caleb King added 166 yards.
King and Washaun Ealey gashed the then-No. 7 Yellow Jackets for a combined 349 rushing yards in a 30-24 Georgia win. Ealey had a career-high 183 yards on 20 carries and King a career-high 166 on 18 carries.
Instead of a sign of things to come from the duo, that night now looks like an aberration.
Georgia ranks 10th in the Southeastern Conference in rushing this season at 147 yards per game, ahead of only Vanderbilt and Tennessee despite returning King and Ealey and all five starters on the offensive line.
"It hasn’t been as we would like," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
"We’ve got to get better at being consistent, running the ball harder and blocking harder," Ealey said. "We’ve just been struggling running the ball and been succeeding in throwing it."
King doesn’t know what message he might write before Saturday’s game – if he’ll write anything at all.
Ealey also wrote "I Run" and "This State" on his eye black (now banned under NCAA rules) and isn’t backing down despite the Bulldogs’ punchless running game.
"We definitely feel that way," Ealey said. "Just to be modest, we know Georgia Tech is a good team and we’ve got to come out on all cylinders."
Georgia’s rushing total in the game last year – 339 yards – was its most since 1988. The Bulldogs ran the ball on all 13 of its offensive snaps in the first quarter and 44 times in the game.
"That’s an O-lineman’s dream," offensive tackle Josh Davis said.
Ealey and King gave Georgia its first pair of 100-yard rushers in the same game since 2004. King had two touchdown runs, including one for 75 yards in a game the Bulldogs were without receiver A.J. Green due to injury.
"We wanted to try to test the waters," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We didn’t go into it thinking we were going to run the ball as much as we did run it. We just haven’t had many games like that over the years where we were able to run it that effectively"
Georgia might again rely heavily on the run considering the Yellow Jackets rank 81st in the nation in run defense at 171.1 yards per game. Keeping the ball on offense will keep Tech’s option-offense off the field.
"I am sure that they would still like to run the ball if they could," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "Our challenge is to stop the run and make them punt this year."
Georgia’s struggles running have fans hoping the Bulldogs can upgrade at the position.
The big prize: Carver-Columbus tailback Isaiah Crowell, who Alabama also is after.
"We sure would love to sign a big-time back," Richt said without naming Crowell when asked about the need at the position. "How’s that? That’s a very big priority for us."
Suspensions and injuries have kept Ealey and King off the field throughout the season.
Ealey was suspended for the opener after his arrest for hit-and-run of a parked vehicle and driving on a suspended license. King missed two games because of an ankle sprain and two more after being suspended for failing to appear for a court date for a speeding ticket.
There was some talk in the preseason of each having a shot to rush for 1,000 yards. Instead they have combined for 1,021 yards. Their costly fumbles might be remembered more than their rushing yards.
Ealey fumbled inside the 5 at South Carolina and Mississippi State and was benched for a game, but set a program record with five rushing touchdowns in a 44-31 win at Kentucky.
King rushed for 100 yards at Colorado, but fumbled to keep Georgia from a chance to kick the game-winning field goal in a 29-27 loss.
Ealey has rushed for 633 yards and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. King has rushed for 388 and is averaging 5.2 per carry.
"It’s not the season that I wanted," Ealey said.
Richt says Ealey and King have actually run "pretty efficiently this season," but Georgia has better utilized weapons in the passing game.
"I think a lot had to do with injuries and then some suspensions, not a lot of continuity there with those two guys," Bobo said. "Both are healthy right now. Both will be playing this weekend."
King says he’s been slowed recently by nagging hamstring and ankle injuries and sickness.
"This is pretty much like the first game that we’re both 100 percent," King said. "Hopefully we can be able to do what we did last year and spark it up for the bowl game."