Cory Mccartney
Thursday November 15th, 2007

ATHENS, Ga. -- Knowshon Moreno stood in the end zone with his hands on his hips and turned toward the black-clad Sanford Stadium crowd, his head vigorously bobbing up and down.

It was just what you'd expect from the player receiver Sean Bailey calls "the Energizer Bunny;" Moreno just can't stop moving -- on and off the field.

Minutes after the 24-yard touchdown run -- in which Auburn's Zac Etheridge and Jerraud Powers were closing in from different directions and Moreno cut inside, causing them to run into each other -- he was on the sideline with fellow backs Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin and Jason Johnson, snap dancing to Crank That (Soulja Boy) as the song pumped through the stadium speakers.

"I always feel myself always moving," Moreno, a redshirt freshman, said.

The 5-foot-11, 207-pounder has been a catalyst in the eighth-ranked Bulldogs' midseason rebirth, with his fourth straight 100-yard game in last Saturday's 45-20 win over No. 18 Auburn. It marked the first time Georgia scored 40 points in three straight games since 1942.

"He's been a big part of our momentum swing," coach Bulldogs Mark Richt said. "He's a high-energy guy and playing with that kind of energy has rubbed off on a lot of guys. He does make people miss and he does run hard and he's just got 'it,' and he's helping raise the level of play for everybody."

If not for injuries, Georgia's offense may not be seeing as much of the perpetual ball of energy. Moreno was the talk of the annual spring G-Day game, running for 68 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. But at the season's outset, he was set to share carries with seniors Brown and Lumpkin in a loaded backfield.

Lumpkin broke his thumb in the first game and later suffered a knee injury that will keep him out at least until the end of the regular season, while Brown was knocked out against Vanderbilt with a broken collarbone. That opened the door for Moreno.

After averaging 15 carries a game through the first six games, Moreno turned into a workhorse against Vandy, carrying 28 times for 157 yards. He followed that with 33 carries for 188 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-30 win over Florida and 196 yards and three TDs on 26 carries in a victory over Troy. With Brown back in the lineup against Auburn, Moreno still took the bulk of the carries, running 22 times.

In the process, he's put his name alongside the most hallowed name in Georgia football, as his 1,104 yards make him the first Bulldog freshman to hit the 1,000-yard mark since Heisman winner Herschel Walker in 1980. But the kid from New Jersey has a personality that's a sharp contrast to his boisterous on-field persona -- and he's as quick to dodge praise, as he is defenders.

"It's definitely an honor, but I can't do it without my teammates, without my boys up front," Moreno said. "It's definitely an honor for the whole team."

Although Moreno refuses to accept much credit, he's made an enormous impact on the Bulldogs offense. Moreno has helped bring confidence to a line that starts two true freshmen (left tackle Trinton Sturdivant and right guard Clint Boling) and a redshirt freshman (left guard Chris Davis) and he's also eased the strain -- and the spotlight -- on sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Stafford was hampered by expectations coming to Athens from Dallas' Highland Park High as's top-ranked quarterback in the Class of '06, and had been compared to John Elway by former Broncos coach Dan Reeves. Richt believes Stafford tried to do too much on his own as a freshman; he threw 13 interceptions, including eight in a three-week span.

Stafford was well on his way to a solid season in his first full year as a starter even before Moreno's breakout, throwing just four picks to nine touchdowns through the first six games. But the added threat in the backfield has given Stafford the opportunity to exploit coverages.

"Defenses want to do everything they can to stop [Moreno] -- putting eight, nine people in the box -- and they focus on him, leaving us with single coverage and we've been able to take advantage of that," Bailey said.

Stafford hasn't necessarily relied on the long ball, but he is making the most of his 28 pass attempts per game. In the 42-30 win over Florida, Stafford hit Mohamed Massaquoi for an 84-yard touchdown and connected with Mikey Henderson on a 53-yard score. Against Auburn, Massaquoi had a five-yard cushion between him and the nearest defender when Stafford hit him for a 58-yard score. Later in the game, Stafford threw to Bailey for a 45-yard gain.

There's little doubt that this is a different Georgia team than the one that mustered 243 total yards, including just 69 on the ground, in a 35-14 drubbing at Tennessee, a loss that Richt said changed him.

"After that Tennessee game, I vowed to myself, 'I don't ever want to live through a game like that again,' " Richt said. "The feeling of not fighting back was sickening to me and to the team, and I was as big a part of it as anybody, maybe the biggest part."

The Bulldogs bounced back by edging Vanderbilt 20-17. Then in the next game against rival Florida, Richt went to Motivation 101, drawing from a tactic he employed during his days as Florida State's offensive coordinator. The coach who is known for a commitment to discipline ordered his players to celebrate their first touchdown against the Gators until they drew a penalty, and they did -- two of them to be exact. After Moreno's 1-yard TD the entire team swarmed the end zone in a now infamous act that even surprised the guy who called for it.

"I never planned for the whole team to come off the sideline. That shocked me as much as anybody else," Richt said. "When I saw it, at first I was like 'Uh-oh,' but then I was like, 'Yeah, I'm glad they're excited.' To see them get excited was great ... we needed that energy."

Richt again dug into his bag of motivational tricks last Saturday against Auburn. He passed along a request from the team's seniors for fans to dress accordingly for a "blackout," and there was speculation the team would wear black jerseys for the first time in modern history. But when the team took the field for warm-ups, and when captains Marcus Howard, Asher Allen, Fernando Velasco and Brandon Coutu took midfield for the coin toss, they were still in their customary red home jerseys. Richt pulled a bait-and-switch on the 92,746 in attendance, though, as the team emerged from the tunnel wearing black with AC/DC's Back In Black booming.

"We're on them all the time," Richt said. "We're putting pressure on them to achieve their goals. But [wearing black jerseys is] a simple thing we can do where they'd have a good time."

The energized Bulldogs have become the hottest team in the SEC, but the loss to Tennessee may keep them from the conference title game. Georgia is tied with the Vols for the SEC East lead with two conference losses each, but Tennessee would go to Atlanta based on the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Bulldogs must win their last conference game (vs. Kentucky) on Saturday and hope either Vanderbilt or Kentucky can knock off the Vols.

Whether or not Georgia ends up playing West champ LSU in the Georgia Dome on Dec. 1, there's no denying that this is a changed team. There's an air of confidence that was missing during a 21-point loss to Tennessee (tying the worst loss of Richt's seven-year tenure), and it's no coincidence that at the middle of that resurgence is Moreno -- whether he wants to accept credit or not.

"I'm just having fun, man," he said. "The offense, everyone's having fun."

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