Dogs' RBs eye Tide's porous run defense

ATHENS — The last two starting running backs to face Alabama have rushed for more than 150 yards.

Georgia's players think they have the ability to continue the trend, but Bulldogs coach Mark Richt isn't so sure.

"I think as a team we have a chance," Richt said. "One individual getting that much, I doubt it. There are just too many questions about who's the man right now."

The No. 11 Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1 SEC) play Alabama (2-3) Saturday in Sanford Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Who they'll start at running back is still up in the air.

Tony Milton, who started the first two games of the year, is back at practice after missing three weeks with a leg injury. Michael Cooper, who started the last two games, took Milton's place in the green, non-contact jersey and is questionable due to a knee sprain he suffered in Georgia's off-week. And nobody but Milton has blocked well enough to give Richt a sound night's sleep.

Plus, veteran Ronnie Powell is doubtful due to a shoulder injury, leaving Georgia with only two completely healthy backs, sophomore Tyson Browning and true freshman Kregg Lumpkin.

It was clear how much emphasis Richt puts on his tailbacks' blocking when he said Tuesday that Milton will start if he's healthy enough despite the fact that Milton is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, less than any other tailback.

"I was really caught off guard when he showed up for practice," Richt said. "I didn't think he'd be that far along. It was good to see him out there."

Richt was even more pleased when Milton started blocking linebackers in drills.

"You don't even have to watch," Richt said. "You can close your eyes and listen and know which tailback is in there."

Even the other tailbacks are comforted by Milton's reappearance at practice.

"It helps a lot to see Tony coming out in the red jersey instead of the green," Browning said.

Browning and Milton shared the first-team snaps in Tuesday's practice, and Browning deserves to start, Milton said. Browning, a sophomore, had 20 rushing yards and 104 receiving yards in his debut against LSU two weekends ago.

"I don't think I'm going to start," Milton said. "Tyson Browning has earned the right to play this week."

Milton said he felt good after Tuesday's practice and will push to play, but added the final decision is up to Richt.

"I'll know when we kick the ball off to Alabama," he said.

The young backs, particularly Lumpkin, improved their blocking during the bye week, Richt said.

"(Richt) doesn't want the quarterbacks knocked on their tails," Milton said. "I really haven't shown that I can break any long runs, but my blocking might be a little better than some of the others."

Whoever gets the majority of the work for Georgia will be facing a reeling Alabama defense. Last week, Arkansas' Cedric Cobbs rushed for 198 yards. The week before, highly regarded Northern Illinois tailback Michael Turner had 156.

"I believe any one of us is capable of going 100 yards in any game," Browning said. "We just have to take every opportunity that is given."

Alabama was seventh in the nation in run defense until two weeks ago. Then they faced two teams committed to the run and promptly fell to sixth in the league and 30th in the nation, allowing 111.6 per game.

The Crimson Tide's struggles fall mainly at the feet of their defensive line, who haven't made many plays. Both of their starting cornerbacks have more tackles than any defensive lineman.

"Everyone needs to get in the right place," Alabama coach Mike Shula said. "It's not physical ability, it's just everyone getting in the right gaps. We're going to get that done this week."

The Bulldogs have yet to commit to the run, though, but the same could have been said heading into last year's Alabama game and Georgia rushed for 161 yards, their highest total to that point in the season. Georgia is seventh in the league in rushing (152.2 ypg) this year.

"I think we're capable of lining up and running straight at anybody any given day," Browning said, "and that's any back in the backfield."

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