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March 26, 2010

Who's Tailback U.?

In 1941 "Flatfoot Frankie" Sinkwich became only the second 1,000-yard rusher in college football history.  A year later, he was the first Heisman winner from the Southeast. 

A few days ago, I overheard on a sports-talk radio station a discussion on the possibility of Washaun Ealey or Caleb King rushing for 1,000 yards this upcoming season.

Added was the fact Georgia had only 12 individual 1,000-yard rushing performances and, of those, nearly half (five of 12) were achieved by Herschel Walker (1980-81-82) and Knowshon Moreno (2007-08) alone.

Georgia?!?  Only 12 1,000-yard rushers?  The school recognized by some as "Tailback U."?  The sports-talk hosts couldn't believe it.

They must have read the AJC that morning and Tim Tucker's article on the very subject.

I want to respectfully clarify some things from a historical perspective.  First off, don't worry Dawg fans; the moniker "Tailback U." can arguably still be in use since, in reality, only 12 1000-yard rushers ain't too shabby.  Secondly, 12 should actually be 13.

Frank Sinkwich was Georgia's first 1,000-yard rusher, gaining 1,103 yards in 1941, and college football's second after Colorado's Byron "Whizzer" White had 1,121 in 1937.  There wouldn't be another Bulldog accomplish the feat for 35 years.

From 1937 - the first year the NCAA considered individual statistics "official" - through 1964, a span of 28 seasons, there were only fifty-one 1,000-yard performances in college football.  The fact there were only four 1,000-yard rushing seasons  from 1937 through 1969 from players on the current 12 SEC teams is even more revealing.  In comparison, there were 53 1,000-yard rushers in the FBS (five from the SEC) in 2009 alone.

Georgia's thirteen 1,000-yard rushing performances by 10 different individuals are actually substantial amounts considering the feat rarely occurred until the 1970s.  Twelve of the Bulldogs' 13 have happened since 1976, or in a span of only 34 - an appropriate number - seasons. 

Georgia's total of thirteen 1,000-yard seasons ranks tied for fourth amongst SEC teams.  Its total of 10 different players who've rushed for 1,000 yards is tied for third.

Auburn, 16 (12)
Tennessee, 15 (14)
Alabama, 14 (10)
Georgia, 13 (10)
Arkansas, 13 (8)
LSU, 12 (8)
Florida, 10 (7)
Miss. State, 10 (7)
Kentucky, 8 (6)
South Carolina, 7 (5)
Ole Miss, 6 (4)
Vanderbilt, 3 (3)

Why was it unusual for a rusher to gain 1,000 yards  until the last few decades?  The main factor is simply teams play more games now than they once did.  In addition, the average number of rushing attempts had increased by the 1970s while the number of yards per rush is  still growing.

In 1938, college football teams ran the ball an average of 41 times per game for 3.4 yards per gain.  By the mid-1970s, rule changes had been established to extend the game, allowing more plays.  Also at that time, most teams handed the football to fewer individuals than before, allowing durable rushers a better chance to gain 1,000 yards.  In 1975, teams rushed an average of 52 times per game for nearly 4.0 yards per gain.

Although today's game exhibits more passing than ever, the number of yards per rushing play is at an all-time high.  In 2008, FBS teams averaged 4.22 yards per rush. 

More significantly, most teams in recent seasons play 13 or 14 games a year.  For some Dawg fans, the 1970 season - a campaign when Georgia played in only 10 games - wasn't that long ago. 

Forty years later, it'll be interesting to see if a Bulldog, or two, will join Georgia's distinguished but extensive (and hopefully growing) list of 1,000-yard rushers:

•1,891 - Herschel Walker, 1981
•1,752 - Herschel Walker, 1982
•1,616 - Herschel Walker, 1980
•1,547 - Garrison Hearst, 1992
•1,400 - Knowshon Moreno, 2008
•1,334 - Knowshon Moreno, 2007
•1,324 - Musa Smith, 2002
•1,312 - Willie McClendon, 1978
•1,216 - Tim Worley, 1988
•1,103 - Frank Sinkwich, 1941
•1,059 - Rodney Hampton, 1989
•1,058 - Kevin McLee, 1976
•1,016 - Lars Tate, 1987


Unknown said...

I wonder if R Edwards would have been on the list if he could have stayed healthy. Also, when talking great UGA tailbacks Musa is seldom in the conversation, yet he had the 7th best season in UGA history.

Patrick Garbin said...

Thanks for reading.

Edwards would have had probably two 1,000-yard seasons if he would have stayed healthy in 1995 and '97. He carried the ball just two times in Georgia's first three games his senior year and still rushed for over 900, playing in really just eight games.

Musa doesn't get as much hype as he really only had one standout season and, even then, his 1300+ yards came in a 14-game schedule.