ATLANTA – Georgia had a tailback come off the bench and dazzle with his speed, score a touchdown, and provide the perfect complement. That wasn’t what surprised anybody. It was who did the dazzling.
Sony Michel? Nope, he didn’t play because of his broken arm. Elijah Holyfield? He didn’t play either, for reasons that weren’t quite clear.
The star off the bench was the other freshman tailback, the one who was the last freshman to sign this year with Georgia – but the first, as it turned out, to score. And the first time Brian Herrien touched the ball.
Herrien darted in for a 19-yard touchdown on his first carry as a Georgia tailback. He didn’t stop there, finishing with 59 rushing yards on just seven carries, which was about seven more carries than he was expected to get.
“I’ll tell you what, tears almost came to my eyes when that kid had that touchdown run,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “Because a lot of y’all know how far he came.”
Herrien didn’t sign with anybody in February, as he had yet to qualify academically out of New Manchester High School. He kept waiting as winter turned to spring, and Smart and the Bulldogs kept waiting too.
“He’s sitting in his second semester, he’s got to make four out of five A’s to even be eligible,” Smart said. “I had a great relationship with him from (when I was at) Alabama. We thought he was a really good player when I was over there, and I was like, Just hang on, don’t sign, just wait, we’ll be there for you if you can make your grades.”
Herrien did, just before the summer, and quickly signed with Georgia. It seemed like a move for depth purposes, and Herrien was not the freshman tailback people talked about this preseason. That was Holyfield, the four-star prospect. Herrien was sharing fifth-team reps during some tailback drills with redshirt freshman Tae Crowder.
Chubb was obviously the star of the day, racking up 222 rushing yards. Senior Brendan Douglas was the second tailback off the bench, mainly on pass protection. Then there was Herrien.
Smart didn’t say anything about Holyfield, who missed almost a week of preseason practice with an ankle injury, but had been practicing this past week in the lead-up to the game. As for Michel, he still hasn’t been cleared to take contact, but he did do a lot in warm-ups before Saturday’s game, as many noted.
“No kidding,” Smart said, laughing. “I said, hey Sony you got all these folks fooled, man, because he was tearing it up. I’m sure there were some scouts and (North Carolina) coaches were over there going, good grief, he looks fast.”