ATHENS, Ga. — Richard Samuel figured to lose some carries after Caleb King returned to the field for the first time this season against Arkansas, but after two fumbles Saturday, Samuel could be in danger of losing his starting job.
“I don’t know if we are ready to move him from the No. 1 position, but I would say if that kind of thing continued, we’d have to really consider whether or not he should start for us,” coach Mark Richt said. “You can’t have two a game, that’s for sure, and continue to play the kind of football you need to win.”
Samuel had the first 100-yard game of his career against Arkansas, picking up 104 yards on 16 carries, including one for an 80-yard touchdown, but he coughed the ball up in crucial situations.
In the first quarter, Samuel mishandled a pitch from quarterback Joe Cox that was recovered by Arkansas to set up a touchdown. In the second half, Samuel lost the football after being hit at the end of a run. He scrambled to recover the ball, scooping it into his chest before the Razorbacks could grasp control.
Ball security has been an ongoing issue for the sophomore tailback, who had problems with fumbles last season, including one on the first carry of his career. Coaches had hoped Samuel had rectified the issue during preseason practice, but the tailback said he still has some work to do.
“I approach it as focusing more on the ball itself — the little fundamentals of protecting the ball and looking the ball in,” Samuel said.
King’s strong performance in his first action of the season complicates the backfield situation further. The sophomore ran for 59 yards on 11 carries, often looking more explosive than Samuel.
“There will definitely be a plan to play both of them,” Richt said. “Caleb did very well. He ran the ball well. He pass protected well and secured the ball well. He showed no signs of the hamstring becoming an issue for him, so it was a very good performance.”
After his defense allowed 41 points against Arkansas — a second straight lackluster performance — defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said some changes could be in store.
Arkansas had numerous big plays, and Georgia struggled to stop the passing game for the second straight week. The Bulldogs have allowed 721 passing yards in the past two games, and nearly all of the members of the defensive backfield have been beaten at least once, and Martinez said he thinks it’s time to see what some of his younger players can do.
“We’re going to get some other guys some more opportunities,” Martinez said. “We’ve got some young players we’re trying to get in there.”
Redshirt freshman Sanders Commings will see action at both safety and cornerback, Martinez said, while Baccari Rambo has earned additional playing time at safety as well.
“We’re going to play Baccari Rambo more,” Martinez said. “I should have played him more in this past ballgame just because of the amount of reps.”
For the second straight week, Georgia played without two of its top linebackers, as Darius Dewberry and Akeem Dent missed the game with sore hamstrings. Martinez said both could miss this week’s contest against Arizona State as well.
“We’d like to have them back, but they’re still questionable,” Martinez said. “We hope to get them back, because it’s important.”
Dewberry and Nick Williams missed the game against South Carolina two weeks ago, but while Williams was able to return last week, Dent was a surprise scratch.
The absence of the veteran linebacker was obvious, Rennie Curran said, as the use of several younger players caused some problems in coverage.
“There were plays that could have been made that he normally would have made if he was out there,” Curran said of Dent. “We’ve got young guys in that were a little confused at times, and that’s going to happen when a guy goes down.”
Despite Martinez’s cautious approach, Curran said he was optimistic Dent could be ready to play this weekend.“I feel like he’ll be able to come back this week,” he said. “He’s a warrior, and he fights through everything.”
Cuff may play Saturday
It looked much worse than it actually was when cornerback Vance Cuff was helped off the field in the second half against Arkansas last week. Cuff suffered an MCL sprain and is day to day, but the junior didn’t practice Tuesday.
Despite his absence, Richt said he remained optimistic that Cuff could be ready for the Sun Devils.
“At this point, I’d say it’s possible that he plays,” Richt said. “We’re more hopeful than not. If he can’t do anything at all tomorrow, we’d probably get a little discouraged, but (trainer) Ron (Courson) feels like he is going to have a chance.”