published Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Surprise Georgia tailback J.J. Green now in key role

University of Tennessee defenders chase Georgia's J.J. Green (15) during the first half of Saturday's SEC game at Neyland Stadium. Green, a freshman who was expected to play defense when he arrived on campus in January, starred with the Bulldogs' top two tailbacks sidelined by injuries.
University of Tennessee defenders chase Georgia's J.J. Green (15) during the first half of Saturday's SEC game at Neyland Stadium. Green, a freshman who was expected to play defense when he arrived on campus in January, starred with the Bulldogs' top two tailbacks sidelined by injuries.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Less than 10 minutes into Saturday's overtime thriller between Georgia and Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, it was time for J.J. Green to forget he was a freshman.

The unheralded Bulldogs tailback had begun the season as a carefree reserve behind the touted sophomore tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Things changed in the first quarter, however, as Gurley watched from the sideline with a sprained ankle and Marshall writhed in pain with what would be a season-ending knee injury.

"I don't know what was going through my mind," Green said afterward. "I was just looking at my brother laying on the ground. When he was laying there, I knew it was time to step up and time to be a man. I knew I couldn't be an 18-year-old kid anymore."

Green already had been a nice story for the Bulldogs, with the 5-foot-9, 183-pounder from Kingsland, Ga., reeling off an 18-yard run in the clinching drive against LSU and a 17-yarder in Knoxville just before Marshall went down. He and fellow freshman Brendan Douglas became the new tailback tandem against the Volunteers, with Green winding up with 17 carries for 129 yards.

"The whole week of practice, they told us that Todd probably wasn't going and that we had to get ready because we were going to be in there to play," Green said.

Gurley, who opened the season with 100-yard games against Clemson and South Carolina and had 73 yards on eight carries before getting hurt against LSU, is "50-50" for this week's game against visiting Missouri, according to coach Mark Richt.

That Green is getting carries is largely a result of his decision to enroll in January. He had rushed for 919 yards as a Camden County High senior, but he was projected by most recruiting services as a cornerback.

ESPN even pegged the three-star prospect as a linebacker.

"When we signed him, we really didn't know what he was going to play," Richt said. "We thought he could play corner, and we thought he might be a receiver. In the spring, we knew we had some issues at the tailback position, so we just asked him what he thought about playing some tailback.

"As it turned out, he's a tough nut. He's tough and he's smart, and he's a very good pass protector. We all know he's not tall, but he's strong, and you can see him finish runs the way he does and the way he secures the ball really well."

Green, who has 22 carries for 194 yards and an 8.8-yard average, is quick to smile when recollecting his first few days in Athens.

"I think I shocked the team the very first practice," he said. "I heard people saying, 'Yo, this kid can play.' Once spring was over, they were telling me that I could play if I could work hard over the summer. Now I'm just executing and trying to be a pro at it."

His shock value may have a quick shelf life. No longer a third-team player studying under Gurley and Marshall, Green could become a huge focal of Missouri's defense given the uncertainty of Gurley and the commitment Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has of establishing the run.

Of course, that's a more appealing scenario than having no Green at all.

"If he wasn't a midyear enrollee, I don't even know if he'd be playing tailback right now," Richt said. "We just didn't have a lot of backs for the spring, and we wanted to see what he could do there. He learned it and was pretty darn good there in the spring, so we feel like he's found a good home."

Odds and ends

The Bulldogs worked out for an hour Monday, with Gurley, fullback Quayvon Hicks (knee and ankle) and safety Tray Matthews (hamstring) among those sitting out. ... Georgia's game at Vanderbilt next week will have a noon kickoff on CBS. ... Marshall Morgan, who made a 56-yard field goal and a 42-yard game-winner at Tennessee, was named Monday as SEC special teams player of the week. ... Right guard Chris Burnette was named SEC lineman of the week after grading out at 82 percent with six dominator blocks.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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