ATHENS – Hearing that Sony Michel sat out of practice last week to heal from hip and groin injuries, the vision is that Georgia’s starting tailback spent his days soaking in hot tubs and getting daily massages.
That wasn’t the reality, however.
Instead, Michel found himself in the Bulldogs’ training room under the intense supervision of a trainer. His days were spent moving from apparatus to apparatus and from exercise to exercise.
“Rehab kind of sucks,” said the sophomore from Fort Lauderdale. “You’ve got to repeatedly do the same things over and over again. … It gets annoying. And just having to do it every day, that’s kind of tough.”
The good news is that mundane work got Michel’s parts back in working order. And it’s not like he was broken down as it was.
Since taking over as the Bulldogs’ primary ball-carrier on the second play from scrimmage against Tennessee two games ago, Michel has found himself with the football in his hands 56 times. Forty-eight of those have come via handoff or lateral toss, seven via the pass and one kickoff return.
Michel would just as soon forget that 17-yard kick return, and those aren’t going to happen anymore anyway, as far as anybody can tell.
The point is, with Nick Chubb sidelined with a season-ending knee injury, Michel is the main man in the Bulldogs’ backfield for the foreseeable future. And he certainly will be for this Saturday’s monumental matchup against Florida in Jacksonville.
It’s a distinction with which Michel has grown increasingly comfortable.
“I won’t say comfortable because everybody is replaceable,” Michel said this week. “But I’m comfortable with playing that role as the starting running back. It is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for me to help the team go to the SEC Championship.”
The fact of the matter is, Michel is now the Bulldogs’ greatest hope. The plan this season was to ride on the powerful backs and thighs of Chubb and a veteran offensive line, with assistance from Michel and the other tailbacks.
But with Chubb now cast aside, Michel has proven to be the only real “home run threat” the Bulldogs have at the position. Junior Keith Marshall has yet to show the explosiveness he displayed regularly before his sophomore-season knee injury. And Brendan Douglas is a dependable runner but not long-distance threat.
Hence, Michel being the designee on 39.9 percent of the Bulldogs’ offensive plays the last two games.
“It sounds like a lot but after the game I was surprised (to find out) I had that many,” Michel said of his 33 touches against Missouri, despite missing half the first quarter to stretch in the locker room. “During the game I don’t even feel it.”
But afterward, the aches and pains bubble up. And Michel is learning that the toughness factor is high for being a starting running back in the SEC.
“The hip pointer is a pretty painful injury, but it’s not anything wrong structurally,” coach Mark Richt said of Michel. “It’s more of a pain issue. He kind of fought through the game with it. .. With the time off, though, he looks good. He looked very good yesterday. I don’t anticipate him having any issues.”
Said Michel: “I feel great.”
It’s a good thing as the Bulldogs need to pick it up in the running game if they expect to have any success against Florida. The Gators are giving up just 116.6 yards rushing per game and Georgia’s rushing production has regressed in each of the last three outings, from 193 yards to 165 to 120. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs haven’t scored a red-zone touchdown in the last three games.
“It’s very big,” guard Isaiah Wynn said of getting the run going again. “We’re known for running the ball and we have some great running backs back there. We just have to focus in on technique.”
A healthier and re-energized Michel feels like he can help the cause.
“It’s about executing the plays the coaches call and executing them well,” Michel said. “Holes are being made, but it’s also about winning one-on-ones. I had three one-on-ones that I missed against Missouri. They also had a great defense, so you can’t just expect to have great plays all the time. But it’s about execution.”