ATHENS — Georgia’s running game was in definite need of a spark against LSU.
Washaun Ealey provided it.
The freshman had an encouraging debut for the No. 18 Bulldogs, rushing for 33 yards on eight carries in a 20-13 loss to fourth-ranked LSU on Saturday night.
Ealey, a 5-foot-11, 205-pounder, sat out the first four games and was reaching that make-or-break point where the coaches had to decide whether they wanted to redshirt him this season. But he was told during the week that he’d get a chance to play, and it was clear the Bulldogs needed help when they Richard Samuel and Caleb King combined for 16 yards on eight carries in the first half.
On Georgia’s second possession of the second half, Ealey got the call. He rushed for eight yards on his first carry, six more on his second. The crowd roared, having grown weary of watching Samuel and King keep getting stopped at the line. Maybe they were also encouraged by Ealey’s uniform number — 24, which was worn the last three years by Knowshon Moreno.
"We thought he might give us a spark running the ball," coach Mark Richt said. "He did give us a spark. He ran well."
Now, what to make of Georgia’s backfield situation? Samuel started for the fifth straight game, but he’s been sharing time since King returned from a hamstring injury that kept him for much of fall camp.
Better add a third guy to the mix heading into next Saturday’s game at Tennessee.
"I don’t know if he’ll start," Richt said of Ealey. "But he definitely helped his cause. Now that his redshirt is over, we’ll try to get the best back in the game. If it’s him, he’ll play."
Ealey was surprised when the coaches sent him in, especially in such a big game.
"I ran the ball hard and tried to keep my legs going," he said. "I’ve just got to work on my balance and hope I get some more playing time."
Ealey impressed the staff when he first reported, but a hyperextended elbow slowed his progress during fall camp. He wasn’t sure if he’d get a chance to play or would have to sit a redshirt season, just as Moreno did as a freshman.
"I was always ready," Ealey said. "They told me to keep my head in the game and be prepared when my number was called."
It’s likely to be called again. Georgia already had the next-to-worst rushing game in the SEC and managed only 45 yards on 24 carries against the Tigers.
"We’ve got to run the ball better," Richt said. "LSU spent a good part of the day in cover-two (pass coverage). What that says is they don’t think we can run it good enough."PETERSON VS. GREEN: LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson enjoyed going against Georgia star A.J. Green much of the game, even if he did get burned on a few plays.
Green caught five passes for 99 yards, but Peterson knocked away a couple of throws.
"That is why I came here," Peterson said. "He’s a great athlete. That is why he is one to the top wide receivers in the SEC. He is definitely an NFL-caliber player."
Peterson wasn’t on the coverage when Green hauled in a 16-yard touchdown pass with 1:09 remaining. The Georgia receiver reached over Chris Hawkins to snatch the ball away.
But Peterson did blame himself for letting another Georgia receiver, Tavarres King, get behind him on a 46-yard pass that set up Green’s TD.
"It scraped my fingernails," Peterson said. "I take full blame on that one."BOOMING BUTLER: Drew Butler isn’t on the field that much.
He’s still one of Georgia’s best weapons.
The sophomore averaged 49.1 yards on seven punts, helping the Bulldogs keep an upper hand much of the game in the battle over field position. He was already leading the nation at 50.1 yards and did little to hurt that gaudy average against the Tigers.
"He’s been — I don’t want to say spectacular, because it might go to his head — but he has been to this point," coach Mark Richt said. "Even when he has a mis-hit, it tends to roll in the right direction."EXTRA POINTS: Georgia had six sacks, one more than it had in the first four games combined. Justin Houston had two, Kade Weston and Abry Jones one each, and four other players were credited with a half-sack apiece. ... LSU snapped a stretch of three straight losses to the Bulldogs. ... LSU WR Brandon LaFell had three catches, extending his streak to 33 consecutive games with at least one reception. ... Senior FB Justin Fields started the first game of his career for Georgia.