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November 24, 2011

One Durable Freshman

With all the talk concerning Isaiah Crowell's status for this Saturday's game against Georgia Tech, I was reminded of a time long ago when another true freshman Bulldog tailback encountered the Yellow Jackets for the first time.

From Keith Henderson to Rodney Hampton to Garrison Hearst to Washuan Ealey, there has been a number of true freshman running backs in Georgia history to produce fine first seasons; however, only one - the legendary Herschel Walker in 1980 - reached the 1,000-yard rushing mark. 

Crowell enters the Tech game just 168 rushing yards shy of 1,000.  If he can hold up, barring a physical (or mental) ailment, one would think that surely the newcomer from Columbus will join an exclusive group with Walker over the final three games of 2011.  One would think... 

Speaking of the durability of a freshman back, including the Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame, Walker averaged a whopping 26 carries per game in 1980.  His season was not without injury.  A sprained ankle limited him to 20 combined carries in Georgia's fourth and fifth games - the only two games of 12 Herschel would not run the ball 21 or more times.  Most notably, against the Fighting Irish in New Orleans, he had 36 carries in a game where he suffered a separated shoulder on the bowl's second play.

Like Crowell, Walker entered his regular-season finale against hated Tech within reach of a milestone.  Herschel had topped the 1,000-yard mark long before - a full month earlier against South Carolina.  Instead, he was 176 yards from breaking the NCAA freshman record of 1,586 rushing yards set by Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett in 1973.

And, if anyone could break a record (or a long run), it was Herschel:

Following the greatest pep-talk in the history of Georgia football, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead on the Yellow Jackets.  Tech's offense would come alive in the second half, and score its first points on a touchdown pass early in the third quarter.

On the touchdown, a Yellow Jacket was flagged for some rough play with senior cornerback Scott Woerner.  Tech was forced to kickoff from its own 25-yard line, instead of the 40, and ironically Woerner received the kick.  On a kickoff that likely would have been downed in the end zone if not for the Jackets' buffoonery, Woerner caught the kick at his own 6-yard line and streaked 71 yards to Tech's 23.  On the next play, Herschel rushed for his second touchdown of the game.

Leading 31-20 and the Bulldogs just 9:30 away from a perfect regular season, and the freshman phenom 52 yards from Dorsett's mark, how fitting was it that Herschel broke the record and clinched a win over Georgia Tech on one of his patented long runs.  The 65-yard touchdown play was, according to Coach Dooley, Herschel's favorite play, the draw - "Slot Right Fly 24 Draw" to be exact.

The touchdown was remarkably Walker's seventh and final rush of the season of 48 yards or more and transpired in front of Sanford Stadium's final collection of "track people," as construction to close off the stadium's east end would begin immediately following the game.

Herschel finished the contest with 205 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries - his sixth (of what would be seven) straight game carrying the ball 23 times or more.  In comparison, Crowell has yet to carry the ball 23+ times in consecutive games this season.  

There has been no true freshman running back quite like Herschel Walker, and seemingly, there will never be.


Anonymous said...

Kevin here ...
Damn, the "Herschel" - "Walker" chant at the end gave me chills!!!

Also, the whole "1000 yard season" really doesn't mean much any more to me....14 games to get 1000 yds?!! That is 71.43 yds a game which is just 18yds a quarter....Sorry but nothing special to me.... I will be happy if Crowell gets it this week because that would mean we ran all over Tech :-)

Patrick Garbin said...

I agree... Since teams started playing more games and bowl stats started to be counted with season totals, the non-per-game figures just aren't as impressive as they once were.

Thanks for reading/posting and Happy Thanksgiving!

Anonymous said...

"Ronnie Portis, Ronnie Portis, please meet your wife at gate 9." Fans just milling around in the end zone. I miss 1980.