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Because the I stations the tailback one yard deeper in the backfield, it has given McClendon another split second to reach top speed and thus hit the line at maximum power. More than any other Bulldog, he epitomizes Georgia; like his team, he seems to have come out of nowhere to stunning success.
A 6'2", 205-pound senior, McClendon carried the ball only 116 times for 705 yards last season. This year McClendon is the SEC's leading rusher, with 966 yards in seven games, even though his offensive linemen average only 1.7 seasons of varsity experience.
"I think it's a great confidence booster to our offense to know that any time Willie touches the ball, he can go all the way with it," says Jeff Pyburn. "It's made our offensive line play harder. They take pride in his yardage."
McClendon is a slashing runner whose speed makes him a breakaway threat and whose power inflicts punishment on tacklers. He has gained more than 100 yards in every game this season, including Saturday night, when he ran for 146 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
McClendon's most damaging play against Kentucky, however, was an option pass to sophomore Flanker Anthony Arnold, whom Wildcat fans swore was out of bounds on the right sideline when he hauled in the ball for a 33-yard gain. The play was Georgia's first from scrimmage after Freddie Williams had smashed over from a yard out for Kentucky's second touchdown and a 16—0 lead in the third quarter. The pass also ignited a Bulldog comeback when Dooley's team might reasonably have collapsed. Five plays later, McClendon scored from the four to make the score 16-7 and set up the thrilling finish.
Early in the fourth quarter, when Kentucky's defense was tiring, the Bulldogs launched a 74-yard march that ended in a six-yard touchdown pass from Pyburn to Tight End Ulysses Norris.
But Kentucky came back with a drive of its own to the Georgia 25-yard line. Then, with 4:09 left, a 42-yard field-goal attempt fell short, thus giving the Bulldogs the chance to finish the game with their most inspired work of the night. McClendon carried six times for 36 yard, and Pyburn connected on a pair of passes for 23 more in a 63-yard march that reached the Kentucky 12 and set up Robinson's field goal.
"They really stuck it to us in the first half," Dooley said afterward, "but I was encouraged that we kept fighting. When Robinson went in to kick the field goal at the end, I was confident. He'd missed his first two of the season earlier, and I knew there was no way he was going to miss three in the same game."
Despite the 6-1 record, few Georgia players are likely to become All-America or NFL draft choices. The exceptions are McClendon, Norris and Linebacker Ricky McBride, whom Dooley calls "the glue to our defense."
The Bulldogs have been lucky, no question there. They have yet to suffer a major injury, for instance, after going through six quarterbacks a year ago. With its preponderance of underclassmen, the team should be making rookie mistakes. Perhaps its competitive smarts originate in a roster that includes 16 former quarterbacks, four of whom Dooley has made defensive backs. Dooley also moved Ray Donaldson from linebacker to center, and Donaldson had never played over the ball before. His coaching instructions consisted of: "Take the ball in hand. Give to quarterback." Donaldson has yet to bollix a snap.