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Georgia offense hits stride

POSTED: November 18, 2007 5:04 a.m.

ATHENS — Glancing at the stats, Georgia’s offense doesn’t look all that imposing.

The Bulldogs rank in the middle of the Southeastern Conference pack in most categories: sixth in points, eighth in passing yards, seventh in total yards.

But those numbers are for an entire season. Over the last three weeks, No. 8 Georgia has been on quite a roll.

For the first time since 1942, the Bulldogs have scored at least 40 points in three straight games, including emotional wins over two of their biggest rivals, Florida and Auburn.

"Everybody is making plays and having fun," quarterback Matthew Stafford said Tuesday. "I think we’re peaking right now. If you’re going to peak any time during the season, you want it to be now."

Indeed, Georgia had positioned itself to make a run at the SEC championship game in Atlanta, though the Bulldogs (8-2, 5-2) must win Saturday against No. 22 Kentucky and hope that Tennessee loses one of its final two games. The Vols hold the tiebreaker edge in the Eastern Division.

If one is looking for an easy explanation for Georgia’s offensive surge, Knowshon Moreno is a good place to start.

The redshirt freshman took over as the starter a month ago after Thomas Brown broke his collarbone, rushing for 157 yards in his first career start against Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs struggled to a 20-17 victory in that one, but they’ve been unstoppable ever since.

Moreno ran for 188 yards in a 42-30 victory over Florida, 196 in a 44-34 win over Troy and 101 last week in a 45-20 triumph over Auburn — a game that marked the return of Brown, who added 84 yards on the ground.

The Bulldogs have clearly gotten a boost from the excitable youngster, whose running style is just a frenetic as he is.

"Off the field, he’s one of those guys you almost have to put a lid on him," receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said. "He’s always full of energy. It’s great having a guy like that to spark you. Even when he’s dog tired, he’s out there doing something with energy. He’s never loafing. You can only feed off a guy like that."

But the offense is more than a one-man show.

Stafford, a sophomore, has cut down on the turnovers that plagued him as a freshman. The youngsters on the offensive line — the first unit includes two true freshmen and one redshirt freshman — are much more confident and effective with 10 games under their belts. The maligned receiving corps is suddenly catching everything it gets a hand on.

Even the defense has helped out, coming up with four interceptions against Auburn to give the offense plenty of good field position.

"It’s not one thing or another," tight end Tripp Chandler said. "It’s a whole team effort that is putting up these points."

Coach Mark Richt doesn’t expect his team to score 40 every week, but he’s not surprised at the improvement of the offense.

"Once you get a little momentum and confidence, a lot of great things can happen," Richt said. "I go back to what I said in the preseason: I thought as year went on, we would get better and better. We had a lot of first-time starters. He had a quarterback still finding his way. I thought the second half of the season would be a whole lot better than the first half of the season. That’s about how it’s gone."

It all starts with the running game, the most impressive element of Georgia’s offense.

Moreno, the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Musa Smith in 2002, is averaging 5.5 yards per carry. So is Brown, who has rushed for 494 yards despite missing three games.

The duo was especially effective against Auburn, wearing down the Tigers as the game went on. Georgia scored the final 28 points after falling behind late in the third quarter.

The runners have softened up things for the passing game. Stafford doesn’t throw it around like some quarterbacks, averaging less than 28 passing attempts per game, but he’s been hitting plenty of big plays.

Against Florida, Stafford tossed an 84-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Massaquoi and a 53-yarder to Mike Henderson. Last week, the Stafford-to-Massaquoi combination burned Auburn for a 58-yard touchdown. Then, after the Tigers surged ahead with 17 straight points, Stafford went deep to Sean Bailey for a 45-yard completion that set up the go-ahead score for the Bulldogs.

"If you take away our deep balls, we’d have a whole lot less offense," Richt said. "Not just strictly by the numbers gained on our deep balls, but I also think it’s loosened up defenses and allowed us to run the ball as well as we have. Going deep has opened up some things for us."

But Richt, too, acknowledges that Georgia’s overall stats don’t look all that impressive.

"Statistically, we’re in the middle of the pack in just about everything," the coach said. "We might be tied for No. 1 in PAT percentage. With everything else, we’re anywhere from third to ninth or 10th.

"We’re just playing the game and taking what they give us."



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