KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Nick Chubb never tried to hide how much this return trip to Tennessee meant to him. Not when he spoke to his Georgia teammates the night before. And not as he walked off the field a day later, this time in a manner of his own choosing.
“The last time, when I was carted off the field I told myself that I’m never coming back here. Just for other reasons,” Chubb said. “But to come back here and walk off on my own is definitely a blessing.”
Chubb spoke to the team on Friday, and he didn’t need to say much. The fact he was in front of them said it all.
There was never a moment when one of Chubb’s runs put him directly at the spot where two years ago he suffered the gruesome left knee injury.
This time the runs that sent him out of bounds were happier ones: A 23-yard run in the first half sparked a moribund running game. He would go on to lead Georgia with 109 rushing yards, as Georgia put a 41-0 thumping on the Vols.
“Emotions were running high,” Chubb said. “Just for me, personally, coming back to this place, after what happened last [time]. But it wasn’t really a big deal. We came here and executed as we always have. And I just think overall we had a great game.”
When Chubb spoke to the team on Friday, coach Kirby Smart compared it to the old E.F. Hutton tagline.
“When he speaks, they listen,” Smart said.
Two years ago, there was some thought that Chubb’s career might be over, after he suffered a gruesome injury on his first carry at Neyland Stadium. Then Chubb pulled off an amazing comeback and returned for the 2016 season opener, and starred – only to suffer a high ankle sprain the week before Tennessee visited Georgia.
Chubb got 1 carry in that game, a favor to him, so he could say he played against Tennessee. The assumption was Chubb would leave after the season for the NFL.
But when Chubb opted to return for one more run, that meant another trip here.
“I don’t think Nick makes a big deal out of much of anything,” Smart said. “His message to the team was just, ‘Hey, man, this game means something to me. It’s important to me.’ He didn’t get to play against them really last year. He knew this was his last shot. And he didn’t have great memories against them last year. I think that wore on the team because the team wants to do well for Nick. Nobody on the team roots against Nick Chubb. Everybody wanted to do well for him. It shows how important he is to the team.”