ATHENS – They’re so different, yet they’re so much alike.
The differences between Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were on stark display Tuesday. They were being interviewed almost simultaneously after Georgia’s football practice. It proceeded kind of like it goes in games, with Chubb starting first, then Michel coming in a short time later.
Chubb’s interview, being conducted on the east side of the atrium next to the Larry Munson Trophy Room in Georgia’s football complex, went the way his interviews usually do. That is, he generally downplayed the significance of, well, everything, and deflected any praise that came his way. Most of his answers were short and to the point, and details were few and far between. It ended early.
Minutes later, Michel’s interview began straight across the way, and it was like a king holding court. He talked excitedly. He smiled and laughed. He made quips. He shared some anecdotes. It went long.
That’s what it looks like before lights and microphones. On the football field, they’re virtually indistinguishable. Just ask the No. 7 Bulldogs’ opponents.
Chubb is listed on Georgia’s roster as 5-foot-10, 228 pounds. Michel is 5-11, 222. Chubb is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and 95 yards rushing a game. Michel’s going for 7.4 per attempt and 81.8 per game. Each has 12 touchdowns in 11 games.
And if Michel can come up with 182 yards rushing before the end of the season – and at least three games remain – he and Chubb will become the first two running backs in UGA history to each run for 1,000 yards in the same season.
Chubb, who starts every game, has 1,045 yards this year. It’s the third time in his career he has had more than 1,000. Michel, who has 818 at this point. Never has.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday. “It says a lot about our offensive line. It says a lot about our ability to consistency run the ball and block on the perimeter. And it says a lot about those two guys. They’re talented guys. Two of the top of the top 10 is hard to do, and keep both healthy.”
Michel popped onto the SEC’s list of leading rushers at eighth this week, making Georgia the only team with two running backs in the conference’s top 10. Chubb is fourth.
“That’s what we’re hanging our hat on, getting those guys opportunities to do what they do,” senior tight end Jeb Blazevich said. “We understand that we just need to give them a little wiggle room and they’re great enough athletes and running backs to get the extra yards, make explosive plays, find the crease, take the big hit and keep running. It’s up to us to give them those opportunities and I think we’ve done a good job. Hopefully we can do something special this weekend to make sure that happens.”
The Bulldogs travel Saturday to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech (5-5, 4-4 ACC) at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Yellow Jackets are giving up an average of 144 yards rushing after allowing 318 in a loss to Duke on Saturday.
The landmark achievement came as a bit of a surprise to Michel.
“I didn’t even know that,” said Michel, a 5-star recruiting prospect coming out of Fort Lauderdale’s American Heritage High. “I’m definitely not big into individual stats. I do know that I’m close to 1,000. It’d be pretty cool for both of us to get 1,000 just for the university. My biggest thing is just winning games. I like winning. It’s great. It brings a great environment into the locker room. It creates a great atmosphere with the coaching staff. We just have fun.”
Chubb is also excited about running down that milestone.
“It’s great,” the senior from Cedartown said. “It’s definitely a team thing. Our O-line is doing a good job, everyone’s blocking well. I mean, the holes are there. We just have to hit them. It’s kind of easy for us.”
Not only do the two running backs share carries in the same backfield, they’re also roommates and best friends. They’re competitive about what happens on the football field but really with anything else. The fact is, they don’t have many shared interests outside football.
Michel loves music and famously has published numerous raps, including one that plays as the lead-in music for the Kirby Smart All-Access television show. Chubb doesn’t really like music.
Chubb has a game system and likes to play Madden. Michel doesn’t care for video games, a dislike intensified when Chubb annihilates him any time he bothers to play.
They both insist they’re not competitive about starts, yards or touchdowns. Their focus instead is on simply doing what the team needs to do to win.
There is one unusual competition that has emerged between them this season. Michel generally has had the reputation as “the fast one” in the duo, but Chubb insist he’s just as fast, if not faster.
Both players are fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) monitors during games, so they’re constantly reviewing their numbers to see who ran faster each week.
Chubb got the nod Saturday thanks to his 55-yard touchdown run against Kentucky. Michel also had a 37-yard scoring run against the Wildcats.
“He ran 22.3 miles per hour on that run; I ran 22.0,” Michel said, grinning. “So he’s faster than me this week. He says I get more opportunities than him when I’m running down on punts but he was faster than me this week. We’re in a speed battle right now.”
Here’s a few more of the exchanges between Chubb and Michel and reporters on some of the same subjects:
On what they do at home:
Chubb: “We really don’t talk much about football when we’re home. When we’re just hanging out, we talk about life, I guess. … We just chill, just hang out at the house.”
Michel: “He doesn’t like to talk. Even when we go in public, I’ll do the talking. He’ll just laugh. He talks at home, just not in public. All he does is laugh.”
On starting versus not starting:
Chubb: “I just happen to go out there first. It doesn’t really matter. He can go out there first, and there would be no drop-off or anything. … We understand we’re both going to get our shots and opportunities. So, we try to make the most of it and not be selfish or anything.”
Michel: “We talk about it, me and Nick. But, you know, when you’re a starter, you’ve got to deal with the defense coming out all hyped up. So, he’s kind of got it bad. He’s got to deal with all the fake juice those guys are coming out of the locker room with, or the real juice. I just come in when they’re all tired. I’m kind of lucky. That’s how I get my stats.”
On becoming close friends as true freshmen:
Chubb: “We both had a sense about it. When we got there, we realized that we’re kind of the same person with the same mindset. We have the same dreams and goals and ambitions. So when we came here, we just kind of pulled together. We realized that we’re pretty much the same.”
Michel: “It started at camp our freshmen year. Every football player will understand that. Camp as a freshman sucks. At one point, we didn’t like it. We wanted to stop playing football. We were both going through that at the same time, grinding through it, pushing through it, jumping over that wall. Because every freshman hits that wall, and we were kind of climbing it at the same time. We went through the tough times together. It was almost like we were going to throw this football thing out of the window. We both know what we can do but that friendship got us closer. The friendship is more important than us being competitors on the field.”
On both possibly reaching 1,000 yards this season:
Chubb: “It’s not about individuals. Our O-line is up for an award, and that’s impressive. I’m proud of those guys because I saw them work their tails off in the offseason. But for me and Sony, we don’t care. We’re winning games, and that’s pretty much all that matters.”
Michel: “It’s special to me. I think it’ll mean more once I leave here, and I can kind of reflect on it and talk about it. ‘Yeah, I was a thousand-yard rusher.’ I can brag on it later. Right now, it’s not a focus.”