ATHENS — Kirby Smart might have only spent one season as a running backs coach at Georgia, but he picked up a few things while on Mark Richt’s staff in 2005.
The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (3-1) look to take their run game up a level at noon on Saturday when they play at Kentucky (2-3).
Georgia has lacked explosion in the run game dating back to the halfway point of last season.
The Bulldogs’ backs have gone 288 carries sine their last run of more than 26 yards, and it has been 12 games — last season’s UK game — since a UGA back has had a TD run longer than 30 yards.
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Missouri rushed for 220 yards on the Wildcats last Saturday in a 20-10 win, with Larry Rountree carrying 37 times for 126 yards.
Junior Zamir White had the most carries in a game for Georgia this season with 22 attempts for 50 yards against Tennessee.
Smart indicated he’s not a believer that a running back needs several carries to get into a rhythm.
“I coached running backs here, and I didn’t think a lot of that,” Smart said. “I thought the hot hand has a lot to do with it, the healthy hand has a lot to do with it, (and) wear and tear has a lot to do with it.
“We’re in a long season and the ability to sustain that (health).”
Georgia is averaging 165.3 yards on the ground per game, down from 185.1 per game last season.
White has held down the starting job and leads the team with 64 carries and 272 yards (4.2-yard average).
Freshman Kendall Milton is next in the pecking oder with 21 carries this season for 134 yards, Kenny McIntosh has 19 carries for 92 yards, and James Cook has 17 carries for 83 yards.
By comparison, Alabama running back Najee Harris (6-foot-2, 230) has 103 carries for 595 yards this season already.
Smart said Harris’ size enables him to handle a bigger load than the UGA backs.
“I don’t know what Najee weighs, but he’s a big back, and big backs can handle that more,” Smart explained. “Most of our backs are 210, 212, 215, and some of them are 195.
“So you have to be careful about the wear and tear and the amount of carries they get. Also, a lot it is our guys play a lot on special teams, and our guys factor in several ways, and we think if you are good enough to play, you should get an opportunity to play.”
Smart indicated that Milton, who had 6 carries 44 yards against Alabama including a 24-yard run, could see an elevated role.
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“Yeah, he’s earning some playing time,” Smart said on the Oct. 21 SEC Coaches Teleconference. “I think you saw that probably last game, he played earlier than he has been playing, he’s made some really good cuts, he’s got good vision.
“Every opportunity he has gotten, he’s taken advantage and grown with it.”
Smart revealed a hamstring injury slowed Milton in the preseason.
McIntosh, meanwhile, suffered a knee injury against Alabama on a kick return and was held out of the bye week practices before returning this week. McIntosh ranks tied for second in the nation with a 36.3 kick return average.
While the current plan is to continue a running backs by committee rotation, Smart indicated that could change.
“If we thought there was one guy who stood out a lot better than the others,” Smart said, “I can assure you he’d be in there.”
The only certain role in the backfield seems to be White near the goal line. White has 14 of the team’s 15 carries inside opponents’ 10-yard line this season.
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