ATHENS — Georgia's depth chart at tailback was wiped out on Tuesday when three backs, including starter Isaiah Crowell, were suspended for one game and top backup Richard Samuel had ankle surgery.
The one-game suspensions of Crowell, the starter, Ken Malcome and Carlton Thomas for unspecified violations of team rules were announced after coach Mark Richt's weekly news conference on Tuesday.
The three will miss No. 18 Georgia's game against New Mexico State on Saturday.
"We have certain standards in all that we do and their actions do not reflect the Georgia way," Richt said in a statement released after his news conference. "They will serve their suspensions, learn a lesson and I'm sure be better men for it."
Samuel, who scored the decisive touchdown for Georgia in last week's win over Florida, could miss the remainder of the regular season after surgery on his left ankle on Tuesday. Richt said he expects Samuel to miss at least four weeks, and Georgia has four games left in its regular season.
The suspensions and Samuel's injury leave Georgia with two former walk-ons at tailback. Third-year sophomore Brandon Harton, who has 11 carries for 33 yards, could start. Wes Van Dyk, a senior, could be the top backup.
Harton and Van Dyk were awarded scholarships in August.
Richt was brief in his comments about his tailbacks during his news conference.
Asked about Malcome, Richt said "Ken is healthy. He pretty much knows what to do."
Asked about the competition for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart at tailback when it was believed Crowell and Thomas would be in uniform against New Mexico State, Richt said "Yeah. It's open season. It sure is."
Crowell, a freshman, leads Georgia with 689 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Samuel is second with 240 yards. Last Saturday, he led Georgia with 18 carries for 81 yards against Florida.
Georgia associate athletic director Claude Felton said Tuesday athletic association policy strictly forbids a suspension being delayed so a student-athlete can compete in an important game.
"Our athletic association regulations are firm that competition suspensions, as a result of a violation of team or athletic association policies, are immediate and occur at the next scheduled competition," Felton said.
Samuel, a junior, had 17 carries for 58 yards and the fourth-quarter touchdown in the 24-20 win over Florida.
Samuel injured his ankle while running 9 yards to the Florida 1 on the final play of the game. He had to be helped off the field with what was called a sprain.
The loss of Samuel will be felt even after the suspended backs return.
Samuel (6-2, 243) is a converted linebacker who gave the team needed size in short-yardage situations. Thomas (5-7, 163) and Harton (5-6, 174) are undersized.
"It definitely hurts, just the way he's been playing, especially the last game," said quarterback Aaron Murray when asked about Samuel's injury.
"That physical presence, when it's third and a couple yards, a guy just running through tackles. But we feel good about the guys we have back there. Carlton has been playing great and then we've got Ken and Brandon Harton too. I think we'll be fine. Those guys just have to step up and get a couple more snaps and they'll be ready to go."
Richt says the surgery should help speed Samuel's recovery.
"It was debatable on whether it could have been non-op or not, but this will absolutely stabilize it immediately and allow him to get stronger quicker," Richt said.
Offensive guard Dallas Lee broke his right leg and will miss the remainder of the regular season. Kenarious Gates, who has started three games this season, moves up as the starting left guard.