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December 30, 2007

Georgia's One-Two Punch

NEW ORLEANS -- Thomas Brown is the serious one. This past semester, he hunkered down in the classroom to take a staggering 21 hours of courses, just so he could meet his goal of graduating in 3 years.

"The best day of my life," Brown said, diploma in hand.

Then there's Knowshon Moreno, who never looks too serious about anything until he gets a football in his hands. He's pinballing through life with joy and enthusiasm, an overgrown child refusing to sit still.

"I'm just excited to play," Moreno said, his eyes darting all over a hotel ballroom in the Big Easy.

Together, they give Georgia one of the best running back duos in the nation, combining to put up nearly 2,000 yards on the ground -- not too shabby, considering Moreno started out as a third-stringer and Brown missed a quarter of the season with a shoulder injury.

Even though the Bulldogs (10-2) were passed over for a shot at the BCS championship and settled for a matchup against unbeaten Hawaii in Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl, they might be playing as well as anyone -- largely because of those two guys lugging the ball.

Moreno, a redshirt freshman who found his way from New Jersey to Athens, Ga., rekindled memories of Herschel Walker by running for 1,273 yards and 12 touchdowns. Brown, a senior from suburban Atlanta, persevered through another disheartening injury to put up 706 yards and nine TDs.

While either would prefer to handle the bulk of the carries, they've settled into an effective job-sharing arrangement.

"One of the things we kind of focus on is Knowshon and myself staying fresh all four quarters," Brown said. "We like to roll in and out of there every five or six plays. That way, when we're deep in the fourth quarter and have to run extensively, we have a fresh set of legs like we did in the firth quarter."

Moreno's emergence was the biggest factor in Georgia's turnaround after losses to South Carolina and Tennessee threatened to wreck the season.

Another senior back, Kregg Lumpkin, broke a thumb in the opener, giving Moreno more carries right from the start. Then it was Brown, who made an amazing recovery from a season-ending knee injury in 2006, going down with a broken collarbone. He missed three games, pushing Moreno into a starting role.

When Lumpkin, having gotten over the thumb problem, sustained a knee injury that knocked him out for the rest of the regular season, Moreno became a one-man show for a few weeks. He rushed for 157 yards against Vanderbilt, 188 in a stirring win over defending national champion Florida, and 196 against Troy.

Brown returned for the final three games, making Georgia even tougher to stop. The tailback duo combined for 182 yards against Auburn and 197 against Kentucky. When Georgia Tech stepped up to halt Moreno's streak of five straight 100-yard games, Brown filled the void with 139 yards on 17 carries.

"They want to pound the ball and get that running game established, then go after the play-action pass," Hawaii linebacker Adam Leonard said.

While Moreno and Brown appear to have little in common off the field, they've blended well on it. Maybe that's because Brown was No. 6 on the depth chart when he came to Georgia and had to get accustomed to sharing the carries. Maybe that's because Moreno was confined to the scout team during his first season with the Bulldogs.

Just don't get the idea that either is happy standing on the sideline.

"They want the ball," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "They want to carry it every time. They don't like coming off. They don't like seeing other guys carrying the ball. They're happy for them, but they think they can do it better. I love it."

Brown has certainly faced his share of adversity. After a promising freshman season, he admittedly became impatient in his running style, trying to make things happen on his own instead of waiting for blocks to develop. In hindsight, that's just the way he approaches life.

When Brown tore up his knee midway through last season returning a kickoff, he worked harder and came back quicker than anyone expected. When some people urged him to back off on his goal of graduating early, he stubbornly signed up for a classload that left him with little time except to study and play football.

This fall, he passed five speech classes -- his major -- along with philosophy and African literature. A few weeks ago, he donned a cap and gown to receive his degree.

"I told my parents that I would trade all my football years, and I've played since I was 8 years old, just for that day," Brown said proudly. "It was unbelievable."

He hopes to be playing in the NFL next season, while Moreno is still at least a year away from considering such a move. In the meantime, he'll keep playing with the same reckless abandon that is his trademark.

When Moreno runs, his legs go this way and that, as if he's not quite sure where they'll take him next. When he's tackled, he usually hops back to his feet quicker than he went down, sending a message to the defense that he just can't wait to run it again.

Next up is Hawaii (12-0) which ranked 38th against the run this season.

The Warriors came up especially big in wins over Washington and Boise State. They can't wait to get a shot at Moreno.

"He's strong, he's physical and he's fast," Hawaii linebacker Solomon Elimimian said. "We're excited to play him, and we feel we can step up to the challenge."



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