ATHENS — A day later it was confirmed: Georgia’s loss at Tennessee was as disastrous as feared. Star tailback Nick Chubb will miss the rest of the season after suffering what the team termed a “significant” left knee injury.
The injury involves damage to multiple ligaments and cartilage, according to UGA Senior Associate Athletic Director for Sports Medicine Ron Courson. However, the damage does not include the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Neither does the injury involve arteries or nerves.
Despite that, head coach Mark Richt said it was “pretty safe to say” that Chubb would miss the rest of the season.
Chubb is currently in the hospital for observation and surgery would be expected sometime in the next two weeks.
“I think the best news was there was no damage of a nerve or any nothing vascullarly,” Richt said. “That was the best news of all, and of course the ACL not being damaged was great as well. … We feel like the damage is all repairable, and that he can make a full recovery. It’s just gonna be a matter of how much time, and (we’re) not quite a sure a timetable on that.”
As for next season, Richt was hesitant to put a timetable on Chubb’s return.
“I don’t want to make any timeframes on that kind of thing, because we really don’t know,” Richt said, but added regarding a return for preseason next year: “That would be what we would hope.”
Earlier on Sunday, Chubb’s mother, Lavelle posted on her Facebook page the that her son had suffered a “PCL,” or posterior cruciate ligament, injury. That is not considered as serious or as long to recover from as an ACL injury.
“It’s not nearly as bad as it could’ve been,” Ms. Chubb wrote.
Nick Chubb is also one of Georgia’s most popular players in the locker room, admired not just for his ability but his work ethic and modesty.
“He’s probably the least deserving person for something like that to happen to,” Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert said after Saturday’s game.
Sony Michel now becomes Georgia’s starting tailback. He rushed for 145 yards on Saturday, and there shouldn’t be a huge drop-off from Chubb to Michel. While the team will miss Chubb’s between-the-tackles ability, Michel offers a dynamic presence outside the tackles, and had been used at receiver in an effort to get him the ball in space.
The question is the talent behind Michel. Junior Keith Marshall is still waiting to return to the form he had before his ACL injury two years ago (at Tennessee), and only had five carries in Saturday’s game. Brendan Douglas, another junior, has experience after stepping in for injured tailbacks the past couple years, though he only has 10 carries this season.
“We definitely need more than one back to run the ball to win the ballgame,” Richt said. “I’m sure Keith will get opportunities and I won’t be surprised to see Brendan Douglas get more opportunities now as well. We’ve got to keep a close eye on our lead back, who in this case is now Sony, and we’ll try to keep him as fresh as possible throughout a ballgame.”
Georgia, unfortunately, has now become used to losing star tailbacks to season-ending knee injuries. Last year it was Todd Gurley, who tore his ACL near the end of his first game back from a four-game NCAA suspension. The year before it was Marshall, who had stepped into the starting role after Gurley suffered a high ankle sprain.
Chubb finishes his season with 747 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 8.1 yards per carry. Like Gurley before his suspension last year, Chubb was in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy. More importantly, at least for his team, it takes away a difference-maker.
Two months ago, as reporters badgered Georgia players for information on the quarterback situation, offensive tackle Kolton Houston cracked: “Twenty-seven left and 27 right sounds good to me.”
Now that’s not an option.
“I think the loss of Nick Chubb is an emotional loss that we’ll feel more now than during the game,” said Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who tore his ACL the first game of the 2013 season. “Unfortunately that comes with territory. That’s a part of the game, injuries. Unfortunately sometimes (we suffer) injuries, so we’ll be there for him as his teammate and as his friend.”