Georgia In The Know

Thanks to freshman running back, Bulldogs offense is sizzling

Nov. 16, 2007

College Football Preview: Week 12

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By Adam Caparell

CSTV.com

 



ADAM CAPARELL

Adam is CSTV.com's football editor and national football writer.
E-mail here!

When Mark Richt looks back on his Georgia team and how far they've come since the first weekend in October, he can't believe it.

 

"I wouldn't have dreamed that. It seems like three months ago actually. It's just amazing what's happened since then really," the Bulldogs coach said.

 

What happened was a bitterly disappointing performance on the road against Tennessee that saw the Bulldogs get plastered by the Vols. Tennessee went into halftime leading 28-0 and some might argue the Bulldogs didn't even show up considering the Georgia offense, which sputtered all day long, didn't advance past midfield until the second half. In the end, the Bulldogs whimpered home with their tails between their legs as 35-14 losers.


 

 

 

There's never a good time to suffer your worst loss in years, but the timing could not have been worse for the Bulldogs, considering it essentially cost them first place in the SEC East with Tennessee eventually taking the reins in the division. 

 

But since then, we've seen a much different Georgia team.  

 

In their four games following the drubbing in Knoxville, the Georgia offense has exploded. The Bulldogs are averaging 37 points per game, scoring 40-plus in their last three games and have risen into the top 10 for the first time this year, becoming a serious BCS contender.   

 

The defense has bent and never broken, but the Georgia offense has really led the charge. The young offensive line, which came into the season featuring a handful of newcomers, has gelled quite nicely while Matthew Stafford has finally found some consistency and is making some big plays for the Bulldogs.

 

Stafford has thrown six touchdown passes for 20 yards or more over the last four games, including three over 50, and thrown for more than 200 yards in each of those contests.

 

"We're throwing some deep balls more than anything," Richt said. "If you take away the deep balls we'd have a lot less offense. That's strictly by numbers. Also, we would not have loosened up defenses enough to run the ball as well as we have. Being able to go deep has opened a lot of things up for us."

 

It's pretty much opened up the opportunity for a red-shirt freshman running back to run all over the competition. That's where Knowshon Moreno takes center stage.

 

The diminutive runner out of New Jersey has run for 160 yards per contest during the Bulldogs' four-game winning streak, and scored eight touchdowns, with teams at a loss to stop the 5-foot-11, 207-pounder. 

 

"I doubt we'd be where we are with Knowshon, especially since Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin have been hurt a good bit of the year," Richt said. "Knowshon is the one guy who has remained relatively healthy throughout and of course, his production has been outstanding."

 

Brown broke his collarbone in October and just returned to the lineup this past week while Lumpkin underwent arthroscopic surgery in October to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee, leaving the Bulldogs thin at running back, many thought.

 

But in their place has stepped Moreno, who began the season as the third-string back, albeit one with talent that was just begging to be used.

 

"Even when we had him third-team, he ran the ball 20 times in the first game," Richt said. "We knew that if this guy ran as good in the game as he was in practice and spring ball, we were going to make sure he was going to carry the ball. He's been a big part of what we're doing."

 

Moreno's already racked up 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns, not only blowing by defenders, but bowling some of them over. The last four games have seen him rush for 157, 188, 196 and 101 yards respectively, while becoming just the second Georgia freshman to run for 1,000 yards.

 

Richt, in his 20-plus years of coaching at the Division I-A level, can't recall seeing another freshman dominate the running game over a stretch like Moreno has.

 

"As a freshman, probably not, other than a Herschel Walker who I didn't witness," he said.

 

Walker, of course, is on a pedestal above all other Bulldogs and is the gold standard when it comes to freshman running backs. The man who finished third in the Heisman voting in 1980, with the highest point total ever recorded by a freshman at that time, ran for 1,616 yards in Georgia's national championship season.

 

While Moreno will never be confused with Walker, he has drawn comparisons to some of Richt's more notable runners during his time at Florida State, where he served as Bobby Bowden's offensive coordinator.

 

"He's not as fast as Warrick Dunn," Richt said. "Warrick Dunn's speed set him apart. Balance and ability to make cuts, I would put (Moreno) in the same league as Warrick. He's a little bit bigger and a little bit more physical runner than Warrick was."

 

Dunn played as a true freshman on Florida State's national championship team in 1993 and ended his career as the Seminoles' all-time leading rusher with 3,959 yards. Travis Minor, the third-leading rusher in Florida State history, is a back Richt would more favorably compare to Moreno.

 

"Travis Minor was a tackle breaker. He had good speed - their speeds are probably similar, Knowshon's and Travis', and their ability to break tackles is about the same - but Knowshon has a little bit better side-to-side [capabilities] and maybe balance than Travis did."

 

Whoever he reminds people of - Dunn, Minor and even Walker, as sacrilegious as that might be to some - he's helped Georgia stay above the fray in the SEC East race. While others around them - Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina - have fallen by the wayside, the Bulldogs have managed to stay afloat, still holding out hope they can make their way into the SEC Championship game on Dec. 1. For that to happen, they need a little help from the Vols.

 

If Tennessee wins out, they're SEC East champs. But should they lose and Georgia runs the table, the Bulldogs could be headed to Atlanta after a one-year hiatus.

 

"We win no tiebreakers, so we can't get in," Richt said. "Winning is the only thing we can control. We don't want to miss this opportunity then if something happens afterward, think of what could have been. We have to play with all our heart this weekend against Kentucky. We couldn't [beat them] last year and the No. 1 team in the country couldn't do it this year."

 

And if Georgia wins out, they're going to be an awfully attractive at-large BCS team that could wind up in the Sugar Bowl should LSU - the No. 1 team Richt was referring to - make it to the national championship game.

 

An SEC East title or BCS bowl berth, whatever's in the cards for Georgia, begins Saturday with Kentucky. And the matchup seems favorable, considering the Wildcats own one of the worst rushing defenses in the country, allowing 197 yards per game. There's no telling how many carries Moreno figures to get, but you can bet it'll be more than those 13 he had against Tennessee.

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