Now, it's Browning's turn to run for the Dawgs

Updated: October 7, 2003, 7:15 PM ET

ATHENS, Ga. -- Tyson Browning is 5-foot-9. That's his story -- and he's sticking to it.

"Well, maybe I'm 5-8 and something," Browning admitted, trying to conceal a sly grin. "But I'm close to 5-9. Let's just call it 5-9."

His height notwithstanding, Browning has emerged as the latest player to take a lead role in Georgia's version of "As The Running Back Turns."

The diminutive sophomore -- he weighs only 167 pounds -- will likely be the third starter at tailback in six games when the No. 8 Bulldogs visit 13th-ranked Tennessee for a crucial Southeastern Conference game Saturday.

Tony Milton has started three times, but he may be done for the year because of a leg injury. Redshirt freshman Michael Cooper has made two starts, but he didn't play last week because of a sprained knee.

Now, it's Browning's turn. At least for this week.

"I wouldn't say I'm taking over," he said. "I've just played more snaps than the other backs. ... It's still something that could change at any time."

Indeed, the school that produced Herschel Walker, Garrison Hearst and Musa Smith has fallen on some lean times in the tailback department.

While the Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1 SEC) are actually a little ahead of last year's pace, their rushing average of 141 yards per game is only good enough for ninth in the conference and 71st nationally.

The second half has been especially troubling. In the last two games, Georgia has totaled only 26 yards on the ground after halftime.

Coach Mark Richt blames inexperience -- both the offensive line and the backfield. The Bulldogs have five new starters up front, while Milton was the only returning back with significant carries in 2002.

"We're still in the middle of some growing pains right now at those two positions," Richt said. "The offensive line has had times where they've done extremely well, and times when they've looked like a very young group. Same with the backs. They'll make a beautiful run or pick up the blitz beautifully, then the next time they'll miss it."

Despite being suspended for the first three games, Browning has moved to the front of the pack. Richt isn't concerned about the sophomore's size, either, remembering a Florida State running back who wasn't supposed to be big enough.

"I've seen it happen before," said Richt, who was the Seminoles' offensive coordinator before coming to Georgia. "Warrick Dunn was not a very big guy, but he was able to do it. Big guy, little guy -- anyone can get hit hard."

The 5-9, 180-pound Dunn, who now plays for the Atlanta Falcons, was mentioned prominently by Richt during the recruitment of Browning.

"He kept telling me that Warrick was no bigger than me," Browning remembered. "He said, 'You just have to work hard and get your lower body stronger."

Not that talk about his size was anything new to Browning. He's been dealing with it his whole life.

"People are always giving me a hard time," he said. "Some guys say I looked bigger when I was in high school. Maybe that's because all the guys around me now are 6-6. They're making me look bad."

Neither Browning nor Richt will reveal the reason for his suspension, merely describing it as violation of team rules.

Browning insists that he's learned his lesson -- especially after sitting out those first three games. He didn't even attend a home contest against South Carolina, watching on television because it was too painful to be there in person.

"It really killed me when I saw times where I could have been helping the team," he said. "I was hurting myself and the team."

Now that he's back on the field, Browning isn't the least bit concerned about enduring the punishment that goes along with being a featured runner.

"I believe in myself," he said. "My mom always told me I could do anything I believed I could do, no matter what other people said. She always told me dynamite comes in small packages.

"Hey, I play like I'm 6 foot."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index