ATHENS – Roquan Smith is on the sideline when Nick Chubb is in the games for Georgia, and for that he’s very thankful.
As the Bulldogs’ starting inside linebacker, Smith sees enough of the Chubb during practices every week. Sees him and feels him, actually.
Coach Kirby Smart insists that Georgia’s early-week workouts feature “good versus good” matchups, meaning the No. 1 offense goes against the No. 1 defense in full-contact competition. So that means that Chubb and Smith run into each other quite often.
“You definitely better have your helmet and shoulder pads tight, make sure they’re all intact, because he’s definitely a load when he’s coming through the hole,” said Smith, the Bulldogs’ leading tackler and a serious All-America candidate. “You have to be sure you have your form tackle down as well. You just to have to get him down any way you can.”
— dawgpost (@dawgpost2017) October 7, 2017
It’s interesting what’s developing there in Georgia’s backfield with Chubb and his running mates. No doubt you heard that the Bulldogs ran for 444 yards and four touchdowns in this past Saturday’s 45-14 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville. Chubb accounted for 138 of those yards and scored two more touchdowns. His roommate Sony Michel added 150 on 12 carries and another score.
As has become the routine for the Bulldogs this season, neither Chubb nor Michel played the fourth quarter. Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien handled that responsibility, as they have most of the season.
In fact, Chubb and Michel have barely played at all in the fourth quarter this season. Chubb had one carry in the final stanza in the 31-3 win over Mississippi State and he and Michel combined for six attempts in the critical final minutes against Notre Dame. Otherwise, Georgia’s top two tailbacks have only eight fourth-quarter carries between them all season.
Which makes what the duo is doing this season all the more amazing. Surveying the SEC statistics Monday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see Chubb back in his rightful place – leading the league in rushing. He’s averaging 103 yards a game. He’s also leading the SEC in touchdowns with eight.
That’s an incredible accomplishment on a number of levels. But considering he’s doing that in roughly three quarters of work per game, that should earn some national notice.
It’s really not though. Ever since Chubb burst on the scene as Todd Gurley’s backup/fill-in in 2014, he has earned some semblance of Heisman Trophy consideration. But between his knee injury in 2015 and carry-sharing in the two years since, he has never jumped to the forefront of that popularity contest.
That’s the case again this season. Chubb has moved the needle a smidge, in the betting world at least. The junior from Cedartown opened the year “off the board,” according to the oddsmakers at the Canadian-based Bovada.com. As of Monday, he has moved up to 75/1.
That’s 17th on the betting site. The top five places belong to Penn State RB Saquon Barkley (5/4), Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (9/4), Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph (9/1), Louisville QB Lamar Jackson (10/1) and Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold and Stanford’s Bryce Love (14/1).
Neither Chubb nor the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0 SEC) are very concerned about that at the moment.
“That is not for me to judge,” Smart said at his weekly news conference on Monday. “I am not here to lobby for anybody. I certainly love Nick and I love our entire offensive backfield. They work so hard. I tell them all the time that the thing that sticks out to me is that the teams that win you get more individual accolades. Together Everyone Achieves More — that is what team stands for. If everybody wins then at the end of the day the accolades will come. So, I think he is focused on that.”
Chubb never has commanded a great deal of national acclaim. He is still not the flashiest runner in the world. Never was really. He’s just lethally consistent.
Chubb looks much more like the back we saw as a freshman and sophomore. His long run this season is only 33 yards, so there could be something to the whispers that he’s lost a half-step, either because of the rebuilt left knee or simply the extra weight and muscle he’s packed on in four years at UGA.
But Chubb’s per-carry average of 6.8 yards this year is more in line with what we saw his first two, when he went for 7.1 and 8.1, respectively.
You’re really left to wonder, “man, what if this kid hadn’t gotten hurt in 2015.” Remember, Chubb was in the middle of a streak of 13 consecutive 100-yard games when his knee buckled in Knoxville. Not only did that knock him out of that season, but anyone who has paid attention would say that injury affected Chubb into and through the next season as well.
It’s clear now, though. Chubb is back to his old self. Just ask Georgia’s opposing defenders. Or, better yet, those guys that have to tackle him multiple days per week in Athens.
“All the running backs we have here are talented, and tackling them in practice is not easy,” senior defensive back Aaron Davis said. “I’ll say for us, it helps us prepare for Saturdays. We just feel like we go against the best every day, and that helps us prepare for other teams’ running backs in the SEC.”
There are indeed other good backs in the SEC, as there are every year. Georgia will see one this weekend when Missouri’s Damarea Crockett visits Sanford Stadium along with the Tigers. The 5-11, 225-pound sophomore is third in league with 89.8 yards per game and a 6.3 per-carry average. The Bulldogs have already seen the SEC’s No. 2 rusher in Tennessee’s John Kelly (98.8) and will face Kentucky’s Benny Snell (87.2) and Florida’s Malik Davis (81.8) in the coming weeks.
But as we are being reminded again, Georgia’s opponents are going to be facing one of the SEC’s greatest backs of all time in Chubb. Last Saturday, he became only the eighth player in the SEC history to surpass 4,000 yards in career rushing. He’s up to seventh now on the all-time list with 4,042 yards, between LSU’s Charles Alexander (4,035) and Dalton Hilliard (4,050). That’s 261 yards shy of fourth-place Bo Jackson and 549 from overtaking Arkansas’s Darren McFadden for the second-most rushing yards in SEC history.
We all know who No. 1 is. Herschel Walker had 5,259 yards in 33 games for Georgia. Chubb has played in 38 already.
But Herschel wasn’t sharing the load the way Chubb has been most of his career. We’ll see what kind of effect that ultimately has. The logic is he’ll be able to play longer and better.
In the interim, you may not be hearing Chubb mentioned in any of the early Heisman talk. But if he keeps it up, all-conference and All-America honors ought to be in play.
The good news for Georgia is Chubb is not concerned with all that. The important thing at this juncture is he’s perfectly well and fairly well-rested halfway through the season.
Lest we forget, the running back not playing any fourth quarters right now always has done his best work in those final 15 minutes. Finishing strong and punishing tired defenses has been Chubb’s career specialty.
It stands to reason that the Bulldogs are going to need to run out some clock or run down an opponent at some point again this season, and probably at several points. Number 27 and his running mates should help to that end.
Whether the rest of the world acknowledges what a special back the Bulldogs have in Chubb is immaterial for the moment.
“If people don’t know by now, they should,” Davis said of his teammate. “He’s been producing since the moment he got here. He has worked his tail off since the moment he got here. It shows on Saturdays.”
And on weekdays, as well.