KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Two years ago when Georgia was here and lost its starting tailback, it had to look further down the depth chart. This time it was able to turn to Sony Michel.
It wasn’t a great showing by Michel, whose kickoff return fumble helped Tennessee on the way to its 21-point comeback and 38-31 victory. Michel also fumbled out of bounds after a long run.
Otherwise, though, Michel showed that Georgia will not be totally lost in the running game as long as Nick Chubb is out. Michel rushed for 145 yards against a defense that continued to be focused on stopping the run, as every Georgia opponent is.
Georgia coach Mark Richt admitted that the gameplan did change “to a certain degree” with Chubb out of the game. But only to a point.
“Sony ran it up there between the tackles. We pretty much called the same plays for the most part that we would’ve called,” Richt said. “Maybe we might have had it with a little more frequency if Nick was there. And Nick would’ve handled maybe more of the inside runs if he was there.”
When Chubb was hurt on the first play of the game, Michel took the field and immediately became the bell-cow for a Georgia offense that depends on its running game. Two years ago in this same stadium, when Keith Marshall went down with an ACL injury, Georgia was left with Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green. This time they had Michel … and Marshall as a backup.
Michel’s career high entering the game was 10 rushing attempts. He had 15 in the first half. His career-high for rushing yards was 155, set last year against Troy. Michel came within 10 of that on Saturday, and also had a key catch-and-run that jump-started the offense.The highlight of Michel’s day, at least the good one, was a 66-yard scamper that saw Michel shed five tacklers, staying upright along the way, moving Georgia into field goal position.
But he still couldn’t carry the offense, which had to turn to the pass to move the ball in the second half.
“Tennessee’s got a good defense. I’ve gotta give it to them today,” Michel said. “They brought their best today. It made it a little tougher for us to do what we do on offense.”
Chubb returned to the sideline later in the game, trying to provide moral support to his friend and fellow tailback.
“I talked to him a little bit on the sideline. He’s in good spirits and he knew I had to go in there and kind of play his role and play the game for him,” Michel said. “I was prepared for this moment – he prepared me for this moment.”