Smith ranks fourth in the Southeastern Conference in rushing, but the
expectation is that No. 8 Georgia will lean more heavily on its passing attack
Saturday while No. 22 Alabama tries to win the game on the ground. Despite that
perception, Smith could emerge as a surprise key player in the game at
Bryant-Denny Stadium. For all the talk about the dropped balls, overthrown
passes and failures of the Georgia offense to reach its potential, Smith quietly
has improved every week.
Though the lopsided wins over Northwestern State and New Mexico State have
prevented Smith from seeing enough playing time to match his 100-yard efforts
against Clemson and South Carolina, Coach Mark Richt says the last two
games have proved that Smith is back to full speed. Last Saturday against New
Mexico State, Smith rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.
"He seemed to make the right choices on just about every run,'' Richt
said. "I think he seemed to feel comfortable again. It has been a while
since he played a lot of football.'' Added Richt: "I thought he ran better.
He blocked better. He really blocked well. I was really proud of how he
protected the passer. But he ran more physical. Earlier in the season I think
there was some hesitation at times.''
Even after Smith rushed for 105 yards in the season-opening win over Clemson
and added 103 yards rushing against South Carolina, Richt wanted the junior to
do a better job of finishing his runs. As he has gained more confidence that he
is not going to hurt his groin again, Smith has run through more tackles and has
looked more like a power runner the last two weeks.
"I would say he's all the way back,'' said running backs coach Tony
Pierce. "He's running hard and strong and he's starting to make people
miss. He's starting to get more yards after contact, and that's what all
outstanding backs try to do.''
With 357 yards in four games, Smith is averaging 89.2 yards rushing per game
and could be on track to give the Bulldogs their first 1000-yard rusher since Garrison
Hearst in 1992. "I definitely think I have made improvements each
week,'' Smith said. "I've felt better the last two games and this week at
practice I've felt better on the field.''
If the passing game continues to struggle, Richt may soon look to Smith to
take the same kind of lead role in the second half of the season that Verron
Haynes played late last season. Smith set a career high with his 27 carries
against South Carolina, but he says he does not expect Georgia to abandon the
passing game. He says he just wants to show enough of a running attack Saturday
to keep Alabama from looking to stop the pass every play.
"I think if we establish some kind of running game, if we hit them in
the mouth and knock them backward, if we move the ball on them on the ground
they're going to think twice about (looking for the pass),'' Smith said. "I
like to mix it up.''
With more consistency and a good balance, Georgia would start to reach the
levels of offensive production that was expected. This week, however, Georgia
ranks last in the SEC in total offense, averaging only 333.8 yards per game, and
so there have been persistent questions about the unit underachieving.
"I'm getting tired of it,'' said the usually soft-spoken Smith. "I
think we all are getting tired of it. If it all clicks, and I think this
Saturday that is going to happen, there's no telling what we can do as an
NOTES: Georgia worked out at Sanford Stadium Thursday so it could run its
offense while artificial crowd noise was piped through the stadium's speakers.
"There is something about that loud noise that forces them to concentrate,
and they had a good practice,'' Richt said. "You've got to rely on signals
and communication in the noise.'' ... Richt confirmed that offensive tackle George
Foster will play against Alabama. Foster is returning from a broken wrist he
suffered before preseason practice.