ATHENS – For the first half of the season, Sony Michel’s role on Georgia’s team was to be the primary backup tailback to Nick Chubb and to act as a sort of third-down specialist. He was fine with that and he was good at it, averaging nearly eight yards a touch.
But everything changed in the first quarter of the Tennessee game when Chubb went down for the season. Since then, Michel has carried the football 134 times, caught it another 13 times and generally has become the Bulldogs’ primary offensive weapon. And if he eke out 73 yards on the ground against Georgia Tech on Saturday in Atlanta, he will become just the 13th player in UGA history to rush for 1,000 yards for a season.
Michel mostly tries to downplay that piece of trivia. But even he has to admit, that’s a pretty big deal.
“If I said I hadn’t thought about a thousand yards I’d be lying,” said Michel, a sophomore from Plantation, Fla. “It’d be great to get. Did I set a goal to get a thousand yards? No. If I get it, it’s just something that happened. But I think every running back thinks about getting a thousand yards. I think it’d be a great accomplishment.”
Actually, it’s not all that unusual for Michel. In fact, last year, when he backed up Chubb and Todd Gurley, was the first time since he was a ninth grader at American Heritage High School that Michel didn’t rush for 1,000 yards. He gained 410 yards in that role, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Including his seven pass receptions, he averaged 7.3 yards per touch.
So Georgia has always known it was a good idea to get the ball in Michel’s hands. But with Georgia’s quarterbacks struggling since Chubb’s injury, Michel has become the No. 1 option in every game.
It has taken a toll on his 5-foot-10, 210-pound body. But he enters the final game of the regular season as close to healthy as an SEC tailback can 12 games into a season.
Hot tubs, cold tubs, daily massages and an occasional session in UGA’s hyperbaric chamber are heling him through it.
“I’m holding up pretty well,” said Michel, who still wears a brace for the broken bone in his right hand. “It’s a long season. We’re getting toward the end of the season, so you have to fight through being nicked up and sore. You just have to keep working.”
If the Bulldogs are to have success against Georgia Tech, Michel will achieve his 1,000-yard goal. He has averaged 108.5 yards and 22 carries per game in his six games as Georgia’s starters. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets give up 163.9 yards per game rushing.
It remains the Bulldogs’ best way to advance the football. It’s for that reason – and not any personal milestones – that Michel hopes he breaks through the 1,000-yard barrier.
“Hopefully it will mean more to Georgia than to me,” said Michel, who would become the third back in the last four seasons to reach that mark. “It’ll be great to get a thousand with a ‘W.’ If I get a thousand and we lose, it really wouldn’t mean anything. The win is always going to come first; you always want to be a winner.
“But 1,000 yards, I can’t complain. Got to always be happy with that.”
UGA’S 1,000-YARD CLUB
- Herschel Walker 1,891 (1981)
- Herschel Walker 1,752 (1982)
- Herschel Walker 1,616 (1980)
- Nick Chubb 1,547 (2014)
- Garrison Hearst 1,547 (1992)
- Knowshon Moreno 1,400 (2008)
- Todd Gurley 1,385 (2012)
- Knowshon Moreno 1,334 (2007)
- Musa Smith 1,324 (2002)
- Willie McClendon 1,312 (1978)
- Tim Worley 1,216 (1988)
- Rodney Hampton 1,059 (1989)
- Lars Tate 1,016 (1987)