Isaiah Crowell and the Disappointment of Unrealistic Expectations Unrealized

We shouldn’t even be having this conversation. In a sane, rational world, one where talent and mastery of craft counted for something, I wouldn’t feel the need to justify my love for Daryl Hall and John Oates. Their greatness would be evident to anyone with functioning ears.

Robert Dean Lurie (February 10, 2010)

It is safe to say that Isaiah Crowell inspires strong feelings among devotees of the Georgia Bulldogs. Last February, he completed the "Dream Team" and validated the embattled Mark Richt regime. The two gentlemen seated behind me in the Georgia Dome last Saturday afternoon repeatedly and emphatically expressed the depth of their displeasure with him. One of my co-authors here at Dawg Sports recently likened Crowell to the Bond girl from "Goldfinger."

What changed between February, when Isaiah Crowell was the "missing man" who would save a program then in a three-year decline, and December?

A little under a year ago, the Bulldogs had just completed their first losing season since 1996, their first seven-loss season since 1990, and the worst season of the Mark Richt era. A little under a year ago, Isaiah Crowell was a five-star prospect ranked by Scout.com and ESPN.com as the country’s top prep tailback coming off of a 1,721-yard, 18-touchdown campaign as a high school senior. What, though, has he done for us lately?

Lately, Isaiah Crowell has rushed for 847 yards, the most by a freshman in the SEC this autumn, despite missing significant playing time due to injury and suspension. By way of comparison, Washaun Ealey rushed for 717 yards as a freshman in 2009, Thomas Brown rushed for 875 yards as a freshman in 2004, Garrison Hearst rushed for 717 yards as a freshman in 1990, and Rodney Hampton rushed for 890 yards as a freshman in 1987. If Crowell runs for 44 yards in the Outback Bowl, he will overtake Hampton for third place all-time among Georgia freshman running backs, and he will have compiled the second-highest rushing tally by a true freshman in school history, behind only Herschel Walker.

Crowell’s achievements on the field earned him SEC freshman of the year honors and caused him to be selected to the CBSSports.com freshman All-America team, in addition to aiding the Athenians in their successful effort to reach ten wins for the first time since 2008 and the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2005.

In short, Isaiah Crowell largely has lived up to the hype, but our perspective on his accomplishment is skewed by the fact that we view him through the distorting prism of his predecessors. We see embarrassing antics that remind us of Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, whose careers ended in disappointment, and we conveniently forget the fact that what we suppose and what we know are vastly different things; most of what we believe about Crowell is based on rumor and innuendo, not on solidly-sourced reporting. We see his 847 rushing yards, and we see the glass as almost exactly half-empty, because, after all, Herschel ran for 1,616 yards as a freshman, and we conveniently forget that accusing a Georgia running back of being “not as good as Herschel” is about as fair a criticism as accusing Stephen Hawking of being “not as smart as Einstein.”

As I pointed out on this week’s podcast, Isaiah Crowell is the Rorschach test of our Georgia fandom. He is the emblematic figure upon whom we project all our hopes and fears for the Bulldogs’ future. We question his maturity, and forget that he is an 18-year-old kid away from home for the first time in his first semester of college, and that the temptations Athens offers are multiplied tenfold for a football player in his position. We question his attitude, and forget that he has been told since middle school by multimillion-dollar college football coaches that he would be the next big thing, and that, after hearing that over and over again, it’s not unreasonable to think he might have begun to believe it. We question his durability, and forget that he was accustomed to being a man among boys (Crowell’s 1,721 yards and 18 touchdowns as a high school senior were gained on just 147 carries; his 847 yards and five touchdowns as a college freshman were gained on 182 carries), and that a period of adjustment might accompany the transition from Class AA to the Southeastern Conference. We question his tenacity, then we lambaste him for his desire to get back into the game as soon as one of his coevals has broken off a big run.

Isaiah Crowell is far from perfect; in this respect, he resembles most of his fellow human beings. His problems, however, appear to be the problems that accompany being an 18-year-old kid. Well, on January 8, he will be a 19-year-old kid. (That’s right; the running back who helped rescue us from Liberty Bowl purgatory in Memphis shares a birthday with Elvis Presley, thank you very much. Rock stars just don’t get suspended for failing drug tests, is all.) I am confident Isaiah Crowell will mature, because most of us did, the aforementioned Ealey and King notwithstanding.

At the end of the day, it is fair to say that Isaiah Crowell would do well to heed the advice of Coastal Carolina head coach David Bennett by being less of a kitty cat---I trust that was the allusion actually intended by my colleague; we at Dawg Sports regret any misapprehension that may have arisen---and more of a ‘Dawg. We should not forget, though, that Isaiah Crowell is a damn good ‘Dawg already, and, when he steps onto and off of the field, he deserves to do so to the accompaniment of your cheers and applause, not your hoots and catcalls.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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