ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia tailback Musa Smith's lingering groin injury may dramatically limit his playing time this week or even force him to miss the rest of the season.
Georgia coaches may decide to turn to Jasper Sanks as the lead tailback the rest of the season, including Saturday's 12:30 p.m. ET game at Mississippi.
|Tony Pierce (Photo: D Legge)|
Smith has battled the injury since the preseason drills but has become more limited during the season after opening with 158 yards rushing with three touchdowns in the season opener against Arkansas State.
After missing the Kentucky game, Smith has been held to a combined total of 41 yards rushing the last two games in losses to Florida and Auburn.
Said Pierce of Smith: "His mind is saying ‘yes, yes, yes' but his body is saying ‘no, no, no.' ''
Despite his dramatic decline in production, Smith still leads No. 23 Georgia with 488 yards rushing. Sanks is second with 288 yards. Fullback Verron Haynes, who sees most of his carries in one-back sets, is third with 170 yards.
In the third quarter of last Saturday's 24-17 loss to Auburn, Smith had to explain to coaches in the third quarter what plays he felt he could run with his injury becoming more of a factor.
Coach Mark Richt may announce as early as today that Georgia can't count on Smith to be its starting tailback in the final three games of the regular season if the sophomore can't run all the plays.
"You have to really look seriously if him at less than full speed is going to be the best thing for us right now,'' Richt said.
With Smith limited to 29 yards on 10 carries against Auburn, including no run longer than six yards, Georgia managed only 73 yards rushing — about half of its average of 143 yards in its first seven games.
|Smith seems frustrated by nagging injuries. (Photo: Dean Legge)|
"It's real frustrating. I really don't have the speed and the burst I normally do.''
Added Smith: "It's not really me out there. I mean, I'm out there but it's not really me.''
Pierce says he is not worried about a potential depth problem at tailback. "I feel fine because I know Jasper can carry the load by himself it if came down to it,'' Pierce said.
Said Sanks Monday: "I think my (carries) will pick up a little bit, but I know Musa, being the competitor he is, he's still going to try to go. His presence is needed.''
Added Sanks: "No doubt in my mind, I feel I can carry the load.''
Freshman Mike Gilliam and sophomore Kenny Bailey also could see more time at tailback.
Smith says he could see himself playing in a more specialized role the rest of the season, but it is not clear how much he could contribute.
Smith says the injury — an inflamed groin muscle near the hip bone — hurts the most when he tries to run outside, as on sweep plays. But he says his first steps on straight-ahead runs also are painful.
"We need someone back there healthy to run the ball and I'm not healthy,'' Smith said. "I think (the coaches) know that.''
NOTE: Senior defensive end Bruce Adrine had reconstructive knee surgery Monday morning at Athens' St. Mary's Hospital. The surgery repaired the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He suffered the season-ending injury two weeks ago. Adrine should be released from the hospital today.
Charles Odum can be reached at CEOdum@aol.com.