ATHENS – This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be, not in the minds of Georgia fans and certainly not in the mind of Nick Chubb.
The Bulldogs’ star tailback had already made his triumphant comeback from the major knee injury he suffered on the first play against Tennessee last year. That happened way back in Week One when he ran roughshod over North Carolina in a resounding 33-24 win over North Carolina. He went for 222 yards and two touchdowns that day in the Georgia Dome. By the time Georgia got around to the Vols – which it will in today’s nationally-televised, 3:30 p.m. tilt — Chubb was supposed to be rolling.
Only, Chubb never got to rolling. In fact, he got stopped all together this past Saturday at Ole Miss. After gaining 57 yards on 12 carries in the first half, Chubb was conspicuously sidelined late in the second quarter with a left ankle injury. He did not return.
And he won’t return to the field today at Sanford Stadium. Chubb is going to be unable to play today against the No. 11-ranked Vols, according to his father.
“I don’t think he’s going to play,” Henry Chubb said Friday afternoon. “He’s got that high-ankle sprain. He twisted it trying to make a cut against Ole Miss. He’s in good spirits and all. He understands it. The doctor said he’d need a couple weeks, so he’ll probably play next week.”
Chubb has been receiving treatment and rehabbing the injury early each afternoon when he got out of class this week. Head coach Kirby Smart said Chubb would join the team at the practice complex later to “do some running.”
Whether it was genuine hopefulness or gamesmanship is unclear, but Smart insists that there remains a possibility Chubb could play.
“Nick Chubb remains a game-time decision,” Smart said during an appearance on the Paul Finebaum Show late Friday afternoon. “Nick has improved in the last probably 48 hours immensely. We’re going to go out tomorrow and warm up and see how he does. If the medical staff clears him, then he’s going to play. That’s where we are with it.”
There’s virtually no hope of that, according to those in the know. And Chubb is supremely bummed about it.
“He was very upset that had twisted his ankle,” Henry Chubb shared. “He was mad at himself and kind of upset about it. He knew (Tennessee) was coming. But those things happen, you know. He’ll go out there and play when he’s healthy. He doesn’t need to go out there now and make the injury worse. He wants to play bad. Of course, he wants to be out there. But he can’t.”
With Chubb out, the Bulldogs will start junior Sony Michel. Michel, who is nearly three months removed from breaking his left arm in a summer ATV accident, filled in admirably for Chubb not only the rest of last season, but the rest of that game after Chubb tore three knee ligaments on the Bulldogs’ first offensive play from scrimmage.
Michel rushed for 145 yards and had a 66-yard run in that contest, which the Bulldogs led 24-3 before eventually falling 38-31. He rushed for 1,161 yards and 8 TDs on the season. Michel has been slow to get rolling himself so far this season. After sitting out the first game, he has just 106 yards on 23 carries since, an average of 4.6 yards a carry. He has yet to score this season.
Georgia also has played true freshmen Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield this season. Herrien was the Bulldogs’ leading rusher with 78 yards and scored their only touchdowns in last week’s 45-14 loss to Ole Miss. He has 184 yards on 26 carries and 3 touchdowns this season.
“I feel better now than I did because we’ve got two kids who have played a little bit in Brian and Elijah,” Smart said. “And Brendan (Douglas) has played a lot of good football around here.”
Chubb’s absence will not alter Georgia’s game plan for Tennessee. The Vols come into Saturday’s game ranked eighth in the SEC against the run (141 ypg) and are fourth in total defense (351.5).
“I don’t think that stops our mentality as an offense at all,” senior tackle Greg Pyke said. “We have great backs back there who are just as good as 27. That kind of makes you want to block that much harder for those guys, those freshmen guys, because they probably have some jitters, and a freshman quarterback. But we have a veteran offensive line, and I know if we do our jobs up front we’ll have a good game.”
Meanwhile, the Vols have their own injury issues with which to contend. Tennessee already knows it will be without All-SEC cornerback Cameron Sutton and inside linebacker Darrin Kirkland, with ankle injuries. And reports late this week were that they’ll also be without middle linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin due to a shoulder issue. That’s the ultimate irony because it was Reeves-Maybin, a senior from Clarksville, Tenn., who gave Chubb the last shove as he hurtled [cq] out of bounds at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones, like all coaches, remains suspicious and cynical when it comes to Chubb’s availability. Not only does he expect the junior tailback to play, he insists he would prefer that Chubb play.
“You like to play a team at full strength and they will be full strength even if they don’t have Nick Chubb,” Jones said. Again, I hurt for him because these players work so hard to get back. But we’re anticipating that he’ll play and we’re preparing as though he’s going to play. And we have to prepare for the stable of running backs that they have as well. I have a tremendous amount of respect for their program, for their physicality and the way they play.”