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Post Surprise – Ealey cleared to transfer

Tuesday May 10, 2011

The departure of Washaun Ealey is probably the least shocking bit of offseason attrition you’ll see. We’ve known for a while that he was on thin ice, and he couldn’t have had a pleasant spring with the new conditioning staff.

It’s remarkable that Georgia can lose its two-time leading rusher with not much more than a knowing and exasperated head-shake from fans and pundits. The reason for that relatively easy-going reaction is of course the anticipation of Isaiah Crowell, but that’s asking a lot not only of Crowell’s talent and mental toughness but also of his body and durability. Odds are the Bulldogs will at some point have to turn to a back other than Crowell, and the list of candidates is dwindling.

I still think the team would have been better off with Ealey returning, but that presumed the attitude adjustment that was so central to this story. There’s a big downside to keeping even a productive attitude problem around especially in a year when the staff is trying to get everyone on board with a turnaround project. We have no idea of knowing whether this transfer would have come about had Crowell gone elsewhere, but that’s moot. This decision wasn’t entirely Richt’s, and Ealey could have decided to transfer regardless if he didn’t want to commit to what Richt expected of the players. Richt couldn’t afford to keep a destructive attitude around in a season with so much at stake, and if you want to say that Crowell provides Richt the cover to do something about it, I’m not going to argue.

There is one bright spot on the periphery of this story, and that’s Caleb King. At the time of Ealey’s suspension in February, King was also at a bit of a crossroads himself. It’s almost forgotten now that King sat out the bowl game with his own problems. With all of the public statements lately about Ealey’s status, King’s future has received much less scrutiny. That hints at the kind of spring King had. He stayed healthy, practiced with enthusiasm and a good attitude, looked capable at G-Day, and is poised for a nice senior season. We don’t know whether he can hold off Crowell, but at least there’s an experienced upperclassman there now to offer some legitimate competition.

For some reason, Ealey’s story reminds me of Michael Cooper. It’s not a perfect comparison, especially off the field – Coop’s transfer had a lot more to do with playing time than any real disciplinary problems. I’m talking more about the impact each had at a time when Georgia was desperate for any kind of answer at tailback. Neither was the obvious choice at the start of his breakthrough season, yet each emerged during his debut campaign to ultimately lead Georgia in rushing.

Maybe it had to do with dispair over the lack of production from the running game, but it only took one game for fans to start buzzing about both Cooper and Ealey. For Cooper it was the 2003 South Carolina game and specifically a 46-yard run early in the game. For Ealey it was the 2009 LSU game. Neither finished with over 100 yards in those breakout games, but it was the glimpse of something that was missing from the running game that got fans excited. It didn’t take either long to become fan favorites. Yelling for “Cooooop” was a natural progression for fans used to cheering for Musa Smith, and Ealey’s role in the 2009 win at Tech instantly added “We Run This State” to Bulldog lore.

The follow-up season was a little more difficult for both players. Cooper especially struggled to maitain his role as the Brown and Lumpkin tandem began to take over in 2004. He ended up playing in only a handful of games and transfered after the season. The story was a little different for Ealey. He still managed to lead the Bulldog in rushing for a second straight year, but it was maddening inconsistency that did him in. He ran for over 75 yards in five games and then managed less than 45 yards in six games. Nearly half his yards and 8 of his 11 TDs came in three games (Vandy, Kentucky, and Tech). There were also the devastating fumbles which overshadowed a double-digit touchdown tally.

Cooper’s promising 2003 season is a distant memory in large part because Brown and Lumpkin did enough over the next couple of seasons to carry the position. Crowell, King, and Malcome now have the challenge of trying to make us not miss Ealey.

One Response to 'Surprise – Ealey cleared to transfer'

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  • It’s been widely known for some time that Caleb has serious academic issues at UGA that reached a crescendo Fall semester 2010. Those could not have magically disappeared in 1 semester. While Ealey needed to go i’m not fully convinced Caleb will still be academically eligible come Fall 2011… without a miraculous , math-defying, gpa boost.