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Moreno poised to take leading role
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Jennifer Morris

Click here for audio of The Times' interview with North Hall's Jennifer Morris
ATHENS — Knowshon Moreno’s stint as the primary tailback for Georgia may last only one game.

Then again, he may be the main man for the Bulldogs the next three years.

Injuries have left Georgia without two of its three-man tailback committee, leaving Moreno set to start in next week’s game against Florida.

Moreno, a redshirt freshman, already was No. 20 Georgia’s leading rusher before two seniors — starter Thomas Brown (collarbone) and Kregg Lumpkin (knee) — were lost with injuries.

Moreno has been practicing as the No. 1 back during Georgia’s off week. He is the Bulldogs’ only healthy tailback with as many as 10 carries this season; the backups against Florida are expected to be Jason Johnson and Shaun Chapas.

Moreno set career highs with 28 carries for 157 yards against Vanderbilt Oct. 13, and he could receive even more work against the Gators.

"I have full confidence in him," Brown said. "He did a wonderful job last week."

The starting job improves Moreno’s chance to join Herschel Walker as Georgia’s only freshmen to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Walker’s freshman record of 1,616 yards in 1980 is out of reach. Moreno has 619 yards. If the Bulldogs (5-2) qualify for a bowl game, Moreno would have six games to gain the 381 yards needed for 1,000 — 63.5 yards per game.

The first concern is the Florida game. If Moreno isn’t successful running the ball, the Gators will swarm quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Stafford says he’s not worried about Moreno’s durability.

"I think he proved it last week," Stafford said. "He had a bunch of carries last week and did a good job. He’s capable of doing everything."

Moreno didn’t hesitate when asked about the chance to have 30 or more carries against Florida.

"Yeah, that’s fine with me if that’s what it takes to get the job done," Moreno said.

Coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Moreno showed some signs of fatigue before finishing strong against Vanderbilt.

"He’s still young. I think he did get a little tired last week with 28 carries, but he got better as the game went on, too," Bobo said.

"He had a lot of energy and refocused in the fourth quarter, which was good. It was something our whole team had to have."

Moreno (5-11, 207) said the 28 carries were "definitely a load, but if that’s what it takes to get the job done and get wins, that’s what we’ve got to do."

Added Moreno: "It’s definitely good to have a few who can run the ball. Just keeping someone fresh is always good. ... But hopefully the guys will get back before the season is over."

Lumpkin led the team with 853 yards rushing last season. Since Garrison Hearst rushed for 1,594 yards in 1992, only one Georgia back has reached the 1,000-yard mark — Musa Smith, with 1,324 yards in 2002.

Moreno’s 28 carries were the most for a Georgia back since Smith had 37 against Mississippi in 2002.

Moreno, from Middletown South High School in Belford, N.J., already has provided evidence that he is not a normal freshman. He won his second Southeastern Conference freshman of the week award for his performance in the win over Vanderbilt.

Perhaps more notable was the fact he served as a team captain in the game — the first freshman to receive that honor under Richt.

Lumpkin, who had arthroscopic surgery this week, can’t return before a bowl game, according to Richt, who has said Brown also won’t play against Florida.

The big question for Georgia is can Moreno handle 30 or more carries if necessary. It’s a new concern for Richt, who is more accustomed to rotating backs.

"We haven’t been in this situation very often where we only have one guy who we really know is ready and the rest of the guys you’re not so sure of," Richt said. "Musa had a time in his career when he was pretty much the man and got the majority of plays. ... Verron (Haynes) had a bunch of carries for us."

Moreno had 20 carries in Georgia’s season-opening win over Oklahoma State but hadn’t reached that mark again until last week.

Brown says the recent Georgia trend to spread the carries among two or three backs doesn’t mean it’s unusual for one back to take a dominant role on other teams.

"He is very capable," Brown said. "I think you forget sometimes most running backs at most schools do carry the whole load the entire game for their team or most of the carries. We have had so many guys here to carry the ball."

That luxury of depth now is gone, at least for one game. A strong outing by Moreno against Florida could help establish him as the lead back in 2008.

"He runs hard," Stafford said. "He’s a tough kid. He’s ready."

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