ATHENS — Christian Payne, who is the starting fullback for Georgia when it does use a fullback, may not be able to play in the SEC Championship Game.
Payne, a senior, suffered an undisclosed injury in Georgia’s 38-7 win at Georgia Tech on Saturday. He has not fully returned to practice yet.
“We’re not sure if he’s going to be able to play in the game or not,” UGA coach Kirby Smart said after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s been out there as part of the game-planning, but hasn’t been able to practice as much as we’d like.”
Payne is one of the best one-on-one blockers on Georgia’s offense and has done very well when tasked with leading blocks for Georgia star tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
But the fullback has seen decreasing use in Georgia’s offense, which has become oriented around the shot-gun and run-pass-options (RPOs). Payne has played in all 12 games but has not started any.
Payne has been used in short-yardage situations this year, including carrying the ball: He has 18 yards on five carries, with most of those carries a fullback dive to convert a first-down.
Other than Payne, Georgia remains in remarkably strong health for this point in the season. Defensive tackle Trenton Thompson, who left the Georgia Tech game with a knee injury, was able to return after a few drives and has been practicing this week. Other players have missed games this season with injuries, but have been able to return.
Auburn, on the other hand, is waiting out the status of star tailback Kerryon Johnson, who left last Saturday’s win over Alabama with a shoulder injury. Johnson has said he will do his best to return and his teammates have expressed confidence in Johnson returning. But Auburn’s coaches haven’t been as sure, and are working in backup Kam Martin and other tailbacks, in case they are needed.