Ware OK after bruised lung, will start at tailback

Updated: September 28, 2004, 6:46 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia tailback Danny Ware is ready to pick up where he left off for the Bulldogs.

After sitting out part of one game and all of another because of a bruised lung, the freshman sensation will start at the tailback for the No. 3 Bulldogs in Saturday's crucial game against 13th-ranked LSU.

"He looks good," coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. "He's shown so far that he's a guy who's very physical, who can break tackles and make yards after contact."

Ware became the first freshman running back since the 1940s to start his first game at Georgia (3-0), doing little to dampen expectations when he rushed for 135 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Division I-AA Georgia Southern.

He got off to a good start in the next game, carrying eight times for 41 yards against South Carolina. But before the first half was over, Ware was knocked out of the game.

"I don't know what happened," he said. "All of a sudden, I couldn't breathe."

The medical staff diagnosed a bruised lung and ordered rest. Ware didn't play in a victory over Marshall, then got an extra week to recuperate when the Bulldogs were off last weekend.

It was tough to watch.

"I wanted to play against Marshall, but they told me I couldn't," Ware said. "That was tearing me up on the inside. I wanted to get out there and help my team."

The offense needed help against the Thundering Herd, struggling to a 13-3 victory. Michael Cooper, Tyson Browning and freshman Thomas Brown shared the job while Ware was on the sideline, but none seems capable of being the sort of 20-carries-a-game back who can bring stability to the running game.

While Richt insists that he's comfortable with several runners rotating in the backfield, it's clear the Bulldogs would be better off with a definite No. 1. Last season, they ranked 10th in the Southeastern Conference with an average of just 134.9 yards per game. For the first time since 1972, they didn't have anyone rush for 100 yards in a game.

Ware looks capable of filling the void.

"It definitely won't hurt us to have him back," center Russ Tanner said. "He runs the ball hard. He did a great job when he was in there. He's another option for us. He has a chance to break one on every play."

The 6-foot-1, 212-pound Ware could play another important role when he's not carrying the ball. LSU (3-1) is one of the nation's top defensive teams, thriving on the blitz. Georgia had trouble handling all the pressure a year ago, losing twice to the Tigers _ once in Baton Rouge, again in the SEC championship game.

Ware will be counted on to help ward off the pass rush. Certainly, he's physical enough to stand up to linebackers and safeties, though freshmen often have trouble with the more confusing defensive schemes used at the college level.

But Ware is not the typical freshman. He played last season at a prep school in Virginia, getting his grades in order and gaining a valuable year of experience.

"So far, he's done a good job picking up blitzes," Richt said.

Even though he's played less than six quarters in college, Ware knows that Georgia will be expecting him to perk up a struggling offense. He also realizes the Tigers will likely be keying on him after his performance against Georgia Southern.

LSU coach Nick Saban is certainly aware of Ware.

"The running back that played very well in the first game will be back for our game," Saban said. "I think he is a very good player."

Ware doesn't mind all the attention.

"I like it when they put everything on me," he said. "That helps me a lot. It gets me in the frame of mind that I'm going to help my team any way I can and they trust me to get it done."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press