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Georgia Tech hoping star RB Smith can go vs. UGA

Orwin Smith left last week’s game against Duke with an injured ankle, but the Yellow Jackets are hopeful he can return this weekend to face bitter rival, No. 3 Georgia. Smith, a senior, leads the Yellow Jackets with 673 yards rushing and is one of the primary reasons Georgia Tech has the nation’s third-ranked rushing attack.

Orwin Smith left last week’s game against Duke with an injured ankle, but the Yellow Jackets are hopeful he can return this weekend to face bitter rival, No. 3 Georgia. Smith, a senior, leads the Yellow Jackets with 673 yards rushing and is one of the primary reasons Georgia Tech has the nation’s third-ranked rushing attack.

Looking Ahead

WHO: Georgia Tech (6-5) at No. 3 Georgia (10-1).

WHAT: Annual in-state rivalry showdown with national title implications for the Bulldogs.

WHEN: Noon Saturday.

WHERE: Athens.

TV: ESPN.

RADIO: Albany— 1450 AM or 103.5 FM; Americus — 98.7 FM or 1390 AM; Donalsonville — 106.3 FM; Moultrie 93.9 FM or 1300 AM.

LINE: Bulldogs by 13 points.

ATLANTA — Paul Johnson said Tuesday he expects leading rusher Orwin Smith to be ready for Georgia Tech’s game at No. 3 Georgia on Saturday.

Smith left last week’s 42-24 win against Duke with a sprained right ankle, and he did not practice Tuesday.

Smith, a senior, leads the Yellow Jackets with 673 yards rushing. It’s a modest total to lead the nation’s third-best rushing attack, especially given Smith’s gaudy average of 9 yards per carry.

Johnson hasn’t had to rely on any one running back. Georgia Tech (6-5) boasts impressive depth as nine players — seven running backs and two quarterbacks — have more than 100 yards rushing.

“Right now we’re thinking Orwin is gonna play,” Johnson said. “If he doesn’t play, somebody else will have to step up. We don’t have a set plan for the way we use Orwin. We just kind of play and somebody else would be in that spot.

“It’s not as if you would have to put somebody out there who has not played in a game.”

Then Johnson began going through his long list at Smith’s running back spot — called the A-back in the spread-option attack. Robert Godhigh, a devastating blocker, starts with Smith. Former quarterback Synjyn Days added depth with his move to running back this season. B.J. Bostic, Deon Hill and former Deerfield star Tony Zenon could see bigger roles if Smith can’t play.

“I think anytime you take a player of his magnitude out, clearly you would miss him if he doesn’t play,” Johnson said of Smith. “But there is some depth at that position.”

Like Zenon, who — in spot time this year — has rushed for 187 yards on 24 carries with one touchdown, and he’s also caught seven passes for 129 yards.

Georgia Tech had 330 yards rushing against Duke, one week after it ran for 380 yards in a 68-50 win at North Carolina.

Georgia Tech also claimed a spot in the ACC championship game Monday when Miami self-imposed a postseason ban. The Yellow Jackets will play Florida State in the Dec. 1 game, and the winner advances to the Orange Bowl.

The Yellow Jackets have won three straight, and their offense is peaking for the end of the season. They have averaged 47.7 points in the three wins.

“We moved Synjyn in there and he’s kind of getting the grasp,” the coach said. “There’s still some things he’s got to get better at, like they all do. But there are some good athletes in there.”

One key has been the maturation of Georgia Tech’s young offensive line. Right guard Omoregie Uzzi is the only senior. Johnson said Will Jackson, who has missed four straight games, will return this week.

“I think we’re playing with more energy and playing a little harder,” Johnson said. “The other thing, like I’ve said all along, those kids, they’ve been young kids. You don’t have many seniors out there. By this time of the year they’ve played a lot of football. The only offensive lineman who has played we’ll lose is Uzzi. The rest of those will be back — and some of them will be back for two more years. I think the more they play, it’s like anything: The more you do something, hopefully you get better at it.”

Johnson said the running backs and offensive line face a big challenge from Georgia’s defense. The anchor of the Bulldogs’ defensive line is nose tackle John Jenkins (6-3, 358).

“I mean, they’ve got some big jokers,” Johnson said. “That nose tackle, they list him at 350. That joker has got to be close to 400 pounds. He’s huge, now. He’s a big man.”

Quarterbacks Tevin Washington and Vad Lee rank second and fourth, respectively, on the team’s rushing leaders. Washington, a senior, has 598 yards rushing with 18 touchdowns, giving him 36 for his career, an Atlantic Coast Conference record for a quarterback.

David Sims and Zach Laskey top the depth chart at the B-back position which lines up behind the quarterback. Sims and Laskey combined for 142 yards rushing against Duke.

NOTES: Johnson said he has the flu virus that is moving through the team. Defensive end Izaan Cross missed the Duke game with a fever. “He should be OK,” said Johnson of Cross. “This thing normally has been lasting about three to four days with our guys, so he’s clear. What we’re hoping is we don’t come down with a large group. We’ve got a few with it now. We don’t want a large group to get it (today) and Thursday. That’d be the killer.”