ATHENS — Greetings from Sanford Stadium. I would describe today as perfect football weather. A couple of hours before kickoff, it’s 71 degrees with a steady breeze blowing just enough to remind you it’s about it get cold tonight. Supposed to get into the 40s overnight, but probably not before Sanford Stadium stands empty again.
And that will be something else to watch for tonight. I’m interested in seeing if every seat is filled in this place, just like it was when Georgia last played here two weeks ago. A lot has happened since then, if you haven’t been paying attention. The Bulldogs went from undefeated to a two-loss team and also happened to lose their Heisman Trophy candidate of a tailback in the process. Nick Chubb went down with a season-ending knee injury on the first play of the Tennessee game last Saturday.
Which brings us to what I believe has been a somewhat underplayed subject coming into this contest. Today’s game against Missouri represents the first of what we can call the Sony Michel era.
It really is amazing when you think that in the last three years, Missouri has yet to face Georgia’s primary featured tailback. In fact, when the Tigers last visited Athens, the Bulldogs were without both Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Instead, they went with the combination of Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green, and it didn’t go so well. UGA lost 41-26.
Last year, Georgia was just entering the throes of the Gurley investigation and what ended up being the first of a four-game suspension. And that’s also when the college football world — and a lot of Georgia fans as well — were introduced to Chubb. The former fourth-string tailback rushed for 143 yards on 38 carries as the Bulldogs rolled to a 34-0 win. That represented the first start for Chubb in what became a streak of 13 consecutive 100-yard games.
Nevertheless, it was Missouri and not Georgia that ended up representing the Eastern Division in the SEC Championship game, just as it had the year before.
But if the Bulldogs have done anything well over the years it’s making sure that they have plenty of top-notch ball-carriers at the ready. So they’ll simply move on down to their other two former 5-star recruiting prospects on the depth chart — Michel and Keith Marshall.
Michel, a 5-foot-11, 208-pound sophomore, had 145 yards on 22 carries stepping in for Chubb last week and is averaging 6.7 yards per carry on the season. So the Bulldogs believe he’ll pick up where Chubb (747 yards, 8.1 ypc) left off as the featured back.
But Mizzou represents a tough first assignment. The Tigers lead the SEC in scoring defense (13.5 ppg) and pass defense (163.2) and are second in yards allowed (275.8). They’re No. 6 against the run (112.7).
Georgia coaches and players claim the offense won’t look much different with Michel as the featured back. I’m not sure I buy that completely. Obviously you’re not going to re-write the playbook. But in Michel you have a player with a significantly different skillset than Chubb. He’s much more versatile as a receiver out of the backfield and can line up in the slot as well as at tailback. I wouldn’t be surprised if he and Marshall occupy the backfield at the same time at least a couple of times.
It’s a great day for football!