ATHENS — It’s of little consolation — none really — in light of the smoldering crater Tennessee left in the west end zone at Sanford Stadium on Saturday. But for a good while, most of the game really, Georgia saw its vaunted running game resurrected.
And the Bulldogs did it with Nick Chubb spending the day on the sideline.
Sony Michel had 91 yards and a touchdown rushing, and freshman Brian Herrien added 74 as the Bulldogs ground out 181 yards on the ground and possessed the football for 36:07 in Saturday’s game against No. 11 Tennessee. In the end, though, it was only the final 10 seconds that ultimately mattered as the Vols trumped Georgia’s last-second touchdown with one of their own on the way to a 34-31 victory.
The Bulldogs had been unable to sustain much in the way of a running game the previous three games, the last quarter of their 45-14 trouncing at the hands of Ole Miss notwithstanding.
“I thought we ran the ball well,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We were a little loosened up. We weren’t as bunched up in there. It was inside runs, outside runs, but it was more putting them in their sub defenses that I thought helped.”
There was a lot of of controversy and debate entering the game over whether Chubb would play. The Bulldogs’ star tailback suffered a sprain of his left ankle late in the second quarter last Saturday against Ole Miss, spoiling an anticipated comeback against Tennessee a year after suffering a season-ending knee injury in Knoxville.
Chubb’s father, Henry Chubb, said Friday his son would be sitting out to heal the high-ankle sprain on his left leg. However, Smart told an SEC Nation television audience late Friday afternoon it would be a “game-time decision.”
Chubb, wearing a heavy brace on his left ankle, dressed out and warmed up with Georgia’s other backs before the game. He was on an exercise bike for the Bulldogs’ first offensive series, then came into the game for the second. He took one carry at left tackle for three yards, then did not return the rest of the contest.
“He was good,” Smart insisted. “We were going to use him situationally. We thought maybe short-yardage or goal-line situations. It just never came up. He got on the sideline and just never got into a rhythm of the game where he could play. We didn’t think he was 100 percent. But he wanted to go, he wanted to be out there and it was very important to him that he played.
“In pregame warmups he felt good. But it was a situation where we thought the other guys were rolling, doing better. We could have used him in some protection systems because he’s real good at protecting the quarterback.”
It’s hard to imagine a less-than-100-percent Chubb making a much of a difference. Georgia averaged 3.9 yards per carry as a team, a number that grows to more than 5.0 for the Bulldogs’ three primary ball carriers and discounting sacks.
“To be honest the backs ran harder,” Smart said. “The O-line blocked better. I think Brian Herrien is getting better and better as he goes. Sony ran so hard, so hard. I’m so sick for that kid because he competed and he was a leader. That’s what breaks your heart when you see guys like that compete that way.”
Chubb tore three ligaments in his left knee on the first play of last year’s game against Tennessee. But he was able to return for preseason practice and not only started the Bulldogs’ opener against North Carolina, he rushed for 222 yards and two touchdowns in the 33-24 victory.
Chubb gained only 200 yards total in the three games since, however.