ATHENS, Ga. - Back in August, Musa Smith said all the right things when asked about his health.
He said the groin injury that dogged him during the second half of last season and kept him out of spring drills has healed. He said he was at full strength, ready to begin practice for what many were saying could be a banner season at Georgia.
Now, he admits those positive reports were a bit of a stretch.
"At the beginning of the season, I didn't even know if I was going to make it out of two-a-days," said Smith, a junior tailback for the No. 5 Bulldogs.
Given his preseason status and the injury problems that have plagued him since he arrived at Georgia, Smith's efforts this season have to be considered an unqualified success. He has played in 10 of his team's 11 games, and he is just 48 rushing yards away from reaching the 1,000-yard mark - a feat not achieved at Georgia since Garrison Hearst of Lincolnton, Ga., did it in 1992.
"I've had some bad breaks in my career, but that's nothing I can control," said Smith, who will go for 1,000 on Saturday when Georgia plays host to Georgia Tech (3:30 p.m., CBS-Ch. 12). "I'm just thankful."
Before the season, the Bulldogs' hopes of claiming their first Southeastern Conference title in 20 years seemed to hinge on Smith's ability to avoid more injuries. He missed two games in 2000 with a knee injury and most of spring drills in 2001 with a broken bone in his foot, and the chronic groin problem left some doubting whether he would be a dependable back this season.
Apart from missing the Kentucky game with a broken thumb, Smith has suppressed those doubts in helping Georgia to a 10-1 record and its first SEC East title.
Smith, whose Bulldogs will play in the SEC Championship game next week in Atlanta, has surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark six times, including an impressive 126-yard effort on 21 carries in a 27-25 triumph at Alabama on Oct. 5.
Smith ranks second in the SEC in rushing, behind Kentucky's Artose Pinner, with 95.2 yards per game.
"He means so much to this offense," said senior offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb. "Sometimes we rely on him solely just to get something going."
Smith said it's "shocking" Hearst was the last Bulldog to surpass 1,000 yards. Plenty of talented tailbacks have worn red and black since, but they've saved their big numbers for the pros.
Washington County's Robert Edwards was the closest, rushing for 908 yards in 1997. He went on to reach 1,000 during his rookie year with the New England Patriots.
Terrell Davis struggled at Georgia before leading the NFL with 2,008 yards in 1998 and leading the AFC in rushing two other years. Davis was a three-time All-Pro and earned Super Bowl MVP honors in 1998.
The best Olandis Gary could do in Athens was 698 yards in 1998, his senior year. He passed the 1,000-yard mark with the Denver Broncos during his rookie season.
"It's hard to believe that, because you see all these great backs come through here," said Smith, who added he has decided to return for his senior season.
Thanks largely to the injuries, Smith didn't come close to breaking the drought during his first two seasons. Starting just seven of the Bulldogs' 24 games, he rushed for 330 yards in 2000 and 548 last season.
And even though things looked bleak during two-a-days, he stayed focused on a goal he set a long time ago.
"It would be real cool," he said. "It's a goal I've wanted to get since high school. It's a great accomplishment to have 1,000 yards, especially in this conference."
INJURY UPDATE: Sophomore linebacker Arnold Harrison, a former Josey High standout who missed the past five games with a shoulder injury, suffered a hip injury during Monday's practice and is questionable for Saturday's game. Richt said senior split end Terrence Edwards, a former Washington County star who suffered a separated shoulder Nov. 9 against Mississippi, could play. Flanker Damien Gary (leg) is doubtful. Guard Alex Jackson (ankle) is probable.
Georgia's Musa Smith needs 48 rushing yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark, a feat that hasn't been achieved since former Lincoln County star Garrison Hearst totaled 1,594 in 1992. A look at how close Bulldogs tailbacks have come since:
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.
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