December 29, 2008

Two backs, one goal

ORLANDO, Fla. It hasn't' taken Georgia's Knowshon Moreno and Michigan State's Javon Ringer long to forge a fast friendship.

It should come as no surprise.

Both players are star running backs for their respective teams, were two of the three finalists for the Doak Walker Award and could well be the first two backs taken in April's NFL Draft.

Of course, Moreno has yet to announce what his plans are, while the senior Ringer is virtually assured of being selected in the first round pick following his amazing season for the 9-3 Spartans.

While those subjects alone would lead one to believe that the pair would have plenty of fodder for conversation during their recent meeting at the ESPN College Football Awards Show, or at Sunday's miniature golf outing with some of the area's underprivileged kids, that's wasn't the case.

"Naw, we didn't even talk football," Moreno said. "We just had a good time being around each other. He's a really cool guy."

Ringer concurred.

"We didn't talk about the game at all, not one time. We all went out down there, had a good time, and didn't talk about football at all," Ringer said. "We just casually had nice conversation, and nothing about the game between us was ever mentioned. "

The pair will let others do that sort of talking for them.

There's certainly plenty to say.

Georgia fans know all about Moreno, who just capped two of the best seasons in Georgia history with 1,338 yards after rushing for 1,334 yards last year as redshirt freshman.

Ringer's numbers have been just as, if not more impressive.

The 5-foot-9, 202-pounder is coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,590 yards and 21 touchdowns, numbers which allowed him to lead the entire nation in scoring (10.5 points per game) coming into Thursday's Capital One Bowl.

But here's the kicker.

His 370 carries are also the most in the nation, 32 more than the second running back on the list. By comparison, Moreno's 1,338 yards have come on just 227 attempts.

"It's had to believe that anyone could hold up to that many carries," Moreno said. "You think about the pounding you have to take. That's very impressive."

Truthfully, it almost did.

"He was a little wore down at the tail end of the season, probably because he went through a virus and he lost about 15 pounds (week of Wisconsin game on Nov. 1)," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "So he was a little bit weak at that point. I think he's come back. He's back to his normal playing weight and he has his burst back. "

The competitive fires burn hot for both players.

Although Moreno claims that the game isn't a personal battle between he and Ringer, the redshirt sophomore certainly wants to end the season and perhaps his college career on a high note.

So does Ringer, who makes no bones about wanting to outdo Moreno on the field.

"It's the competitiveness in me. I've had the opportunity to talk to Knowshon and he's a really cool guy. But the competitiveness in me kicks in. But whatever he does out there on the field, I want to top," Ringer said. "But it's about how our guys up front do. I can't do anything without people blocking for me, and he can't do anything without his line blocking for him. It's really a battle between our offensive line vs. their defensive line, and their offensive line against our defense. The game will be won up front. Whoever can establish dominance up front I feel will have the most success as a team and also for me and him individually."

Georgia coach Mark Richt certainly hopes his Bulldogs can keep Ringer in check, although he admits that will likely be tough to do.

"We're going to have to do a great job just to be able to slow him down," Richt said. "It's not going to be real fancy as far as what goes on. They're going to try and knock us off the ball and it's going to be up to us to stand our ground, get off blocks and make tackles. We certainly hope we can get in position to make plays, but ultimately it's going to come down to the human element. He's a great back, Knowshon's a great back. If their guy is better we're going to have a hard time getting him on the ground."

Dantonio said the Bulldogs will certainly get their opportunity to find out for themselves.

Ringer has accounted for 96 percent of Michigan State's rushing yards (1,590 of 1,661 yards) and 78 percent of its rushing attempts (370 of 477).

Twice this year he rushed for over 200 yards 43 carries for 282 yards against Florida Atlantic and 39 carries for 201 yards against Notre Dame.

"I think any time you want to run the football, you have to be able to control the zero, the center box, which is where the defensive tackles and guards and centers are, and then you have to control the tight end C-area," Dantonio said. "So those two areas will be crucial in terms of our success in running the football. Joel Nitchman (center) has had a nice season. He's got an opportunity to raise the bar a little bit this next game. So I think it will be a great opportunity for him, and a great challenge for him. But obviously our ability to run the football will be very, very critical to our success."



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