- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - With Georgia’s offense in a slump and the Bulldogs’ season at crisis stage, it’s time to re-invest in the team’s proven stars.

That means more work for running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel this week against Kentucky. There also may be a bigger role for Isaiah McKenzie.

Chubb had only nine carries for 20 yards in last week’s 24-10 loss at No. 10 Florida. Michel had three carries for two yards. McKenzie, the team’s leading receiver, had no touches on offense.

Georgia (4-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) has lost four of five games. The Bulldogs’ offense appears to have lost all momentum just in time for the visit to Kentucky (5-3, 4-2), which has won three straight .

Florida limited Georgia to 164 yards on 52 plays, so there were fewer opportunities for all. Still, coach Kirby Smart had to explain on Monday that yes, Chubb was healthy and yes, the Bulldogs’ biggest star can expect a bigger workload this week.

“We’ve got to get those backs the ball more,” Smart said. “We know that. They know that. It’s being addressed. I think everybody knows that.”

Chubb surprised everyone in his comeback from last year’s knee surgery by running for 222 yards with two touchdowns in a win over North Carolina to open the season. He also ran in top form in a win over South Carolina on Oct. 9, when he had 121 yards rushing with two touchdowns. Since then, he has been held to a combined 60 yards in losses to Vanderbilt and Florida.

The easy answer is the offensive line failed to clear room for Chubb and Michel against Florida. Defenses are loading the box to stop the run, daring freshman quarterback Jacob Eason to pass to receivers in one-on-one coverages. Eason completed only 15 of 33 passes for 143 yards and one touchdown against the Gators.

“It’s kind of frustrating, but at the same time you can’t let it get to you because that’s when you tend to mess up even more,” said left guard Isaiah Wynn. “So we are just working on fixing it and getting better.”

The offensive swoon could shake any quarterback’s confidence. Receiver Michael Chigbu said he hopes Eason stays strong.

“I just want him to keep his composure, for him to know that we are always there for him,” Chigbu said. “We will get this right. Nobody wants him to be frustrated. It’s not his fault. It’s the team’s fault. It’s us as a team.”

Smart’s specialty is defense. He acknowledged he and his staff, including offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jim Chaney, have struggled to find a run-pass balance, especially when Chubb, Michel and others haven’t found running room.

“When you’re not successful running it, you can’t keep banging your head against the wall,” Smart said. “You’ve got to find ways to run the ball and you’ve got to find ways to take shots.”

Smart said he won’t let the offensive line take all the blame.

“It’s our responsibility as coaches and an offensive staff and offensive line coach to get the ball to the playmakers and allow them to make plays,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to think that we’re blaming the offensive line. Do we think we’ve got to play better there? Yeah. They have played well sometimes. We just haven’t done it with a level of consistency. We’ve got to help them by what we call and what we do scheme-wise.”


More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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