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Curtis Compton / AJC
Georgia freshman tailback Kenny McIntosh has emerged as a capable candidate for carries in a deep backfield.

Georgia RB Kenny McIntosh latest of newcomers to emerge, pivotal to season success

ATHENS — Kirby Smart knew he had a strong 2019 signing class, but not even the Georgia head coach could have known how impactful — and pivotal — the newcomers would prove to be.

The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs (3-0) play host to No. 7 Notre Dame (2-0) at 8 p.m. on Saturday. It’s the first non-conference matchup of two top 10 teams at Sanford Stadium in almost 53 years.

RELATED: ‘Broadway’ Notre Dame ready for big stage

Georgia will be relying on a handful of players who weren’t on the roster a season ago, some in more direct ways than others.

Freshman tailback Kenny McIntosh is the latest newcomer to emerge in earnest.

McIntosh may not get many carries against the Irish, but his performance last Saturday could be enough to trigger James Cook getting more snaps at slot receiver, where there’s a need.

RELATED: ‘Shifty’ James Cook impresses Kirby Smart all over

“We don’t have a deep group there,” Smart conceded after the 55-0 win over Arkansas State last Saturday. “We’re thin at wideout. It’s tough because guys are going down.”

That’s where McIntosh’s emergence could factor in. McIntosh’s ’“dead-leg’ move last Saturday was the stuff of highlight reels.

“Kenny is a good player, he understands the system he’s in, he chose to come here amongst one of the deepest running back corps in the country,” Smart said.

“He’s not afraid of competition. He’s got a brother in the NFL, he grew up in a talent-laden family. Kenny is getting better and better,”

The 215-pound McIntosh broke away from the defense after his exciting move, showing top end speed on the 62-yards TD dash.

The deep backfield that also features D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien and Zamir White could free Cook to contribute at slot until players come back healthy.

RELATED: Georgia receiver ranks thinned by injuries

Georgia finished last Saturday’s game with four receivers sidelined by injuries.

Slot receiver Demetris Robertson is expected to be available for Notre Dame after being held out last Saturday with a nagging lower body injury.

But opening game slot starter Kearis Jackson is expected to miss at least one more game with a broken hand, and veteran Tyler Simmons is questionable after suffering a right shoulder injury.

Newcomers like freshmen George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock have answered the bell.

Pickens leads the Bulldogs with nine caches for 162 yards, and Blaylock broke out with a four-catch, 112-yard Game Ball performance last Saturday.

RELATED: Dominick Blaylock stars in ‘Next Man Up’ performance

Grad transfer WR Lawrence Cager scored his first UGA touchdown last Saturday in addition to showing downfield blocking prowess on a 37-yard Cook TD run.

Even with Pickens, Blaylock and Cager joining healthy wideouts Matt Landers and Trey Blount, Georgia would prefer a deeper rotation.

Smart has talked often and openly about ways to get Cook more involved in the offense. Already, Georgia has lined Cook up wide and used him on jet sweeps.

“It’s big for us because we’re a physical, downhill team, and when you have to defend the 53-yard width of the field as opposed to just the depth of it, it makes it a lot tougher,” Smart explained. “James is a hard-to-tackle guy.”

Cook has taken snaps in practice each week at receiver in addition to playing quarterback in the Wildcat formation and returning kicks.

Newcomer impact

• The top four receivers (yardage) in the WR/TE corps are newcomers: Pickens (162 yards), Blaylock (160 yards), Eli Wolf (90 yards), Cager (57 yards).

• Two of the five UGA players with a team-high 1.5 sacks are newcomers: OLB Nolan Smith and OLB Jermaine Johnson.

• McIntosh’s 62-yard run and Blaylock’s 60-yard pass reception are the two longest UGA plays from scrimmage this season.

Brian Herrien on Kenny McIntosh run

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