ATHENS ― Returning to the scene of the crime. That’s one way to put Nick Chubb’s return to Tennessee and Neyland Stadium this Saturday.
Of course, Georgia’s star tailback won’t put it that way. Chubb has way too much class for that. Even though the shove out of bounds was a little late and the turf on the Volunteers’ football field has been like a virtual mine field for the Bulldogs’ skill players the last several years, nothing that has happened there has been on purpose. Just unfortunate.
Nobody knows that better than Chubb. His left knee bent in an unintended direction on the first offensive play the last time Georgia visited Tennessee on Oct. 10, 2015. Several ligaments were damaged as a result. Chubb required reconstructive surgery, missed the rest of that season and was affected even into 2016 before he fully recovered.
Well, Chubb is looking and feeling like his old self, and he gets a chance to go back to Knoxville for the first time since that fateful day on Saturday. He intends to hang around longer this time.
“Going back up there where all that happened to me, it’s just a blessing for me to be able to run and play like I always have,” Chubb said after the Bulldogs’ 31-3 win over Mississippi State last Saturday. “I’m just looking forward to it.”
Both Georgia and Chubb will arrive in Knoxville with considerable momentum. The Bulldogs’ improved to 4-0 on the season and moved up to No. 7 in the AP Top 25 poll after their domination of then-No. 17 Mississippi State on Saturday night at Sanford Stadium. Just as he has all season, Chubb played a big part in the game.
He scored touchdowns on two highlight-reel runs. The first was a high-stepping, inside-to-outside jaunt from 7 yards out to give the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter. The second demonstrated Chubb’s straight-ahead speed as he took a direct snap out of the Wild Dawg formation and jetted 28 yards around left end to stake Georgia to a 21-3 lead early in the third quarter.
Chubb also had a major role in the game’s biggest play. He tossed an inside handoff back to quarterback Jake Fromm on Georgia’s first offensive play from scrimmage and Fromm completed the tried-and-true flea-flicker with a 59-yard touchdown pass to Terry Godwin.
“Every team we play, they pretty much bite down hard on the run,” Chubb said. “We knew those guys would kind of bite on it.”
Chubb finished with a game-best 81 yards rushing on 15 carries. He enters the Tennessee game as Georgia’s leading rusher and scorer with 371 yards and 6 touchdowns. He’s averaging 6.3 yards per carry so far this season and his average of 92.8 yards per game is third in the SEC.
So, yeah, Chubb is back.
But now he’s heading back to Knoxville. So will he be feeling any trepidation? Will there be any funny feelings or extra motivation?
“Nah,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to it.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he believes that’s authentic.
“Nick’s not the kind of kid that thinks about things like that,” Smart said. “Nick will be out there ready to go Monday, ripping and snorting, running the ball. … He’s not the kind of guy that gets into things like that. Nick’s into toting the rock and punching people and that’s what he’ll be thinking about.”
Georgia definitely will be thinking about running the football. And Tennessee will be thinking about stopping the run, but there is evidence it won’t be able to.
The Volunteers will enter the game Saturday ranked 117th in the nation in rush defense. They’re giving up 242.3 yards per game and 5.1 yards per attempt.
The Bulldogs are fourth in the SEC on the ground, averaging 223.3 yards per game, and they’re not depending on Chubb to do all the work. Fellow senior Sony Michel, coming off an ankle injury, and freshman D’Andre Swift are averaging 12 and 6 carries a game, respectively.
But Chubb has reemerged this season as the Bulldogs’ primary weapon in the backfield. He’s averaging 14.75 carries a game.
He also continues to move up into lofty territory on Georgia’s career charts. His TDs on Saturday gave him 39 in his career, which is third in UGA history. He needs five more to run down Todd Gurley.
And if Chubb continues to score touchdowns at his current pace, he could tie Garrison Hearst for Georgia’s all-time record for a season with 21.
He’s never had the pleasure of reaching those famous checkerboard end zones at Neyland Stadium. Getting in there Saturday would be something special.
For now, though, just playing past the first play is enough to get Chubb excited.
“Yeah, I’m ready for it,” Chubb said with a grin.