UGA’s Nick Chubb looks for re-launch at Missouri

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Freshman Nick Chubb gets loose against Missouri as he rushed for 143 yards on 38 carries in his debut as a starting tailback on Oct. 11, 2014.

COLUMBIA, MO. – Nick Chubb found out on a Thursday he was going to get his first career start against Missouri that Saturday in 2014. Henry Chubb, his father, didn’t find out until the day of the game.

Family friends Charles and Erwin Bagwell casually ran into Henry working in Cave Spring that Saturday and mentioned they’d heard about Nick starting for the suspended Todd Gurley. Henry hadn’t heard.

“I fell to my knees,” Henry Chubb recalled. “I said, ‘my boy? They’re throwing my baby out there?’”

Turns out, Henry’s “baby” was just fine. And so were the Bulldogs. Chubb carried the ball 38 times that day, rushing for 143 yards and catching four passes for another 31 yards as Georgia rolled 34-0.

To that point, UGA fans had seen number 27 only in brief glimpses as an understudy to Todd Gurley and had been duly impressed at those. But Chubb in full whole-game doses was truly a sight to see, for them as well as his teammates and coaches.

“He had an unbelievable game,” senior center Brandon Kublanow recalled. “I was like, ‘Wow, this kid’s going to be the real deal. Definitely fun to be a part of.”

That performance set off a string of 14 consecutive 100-plus-yard games for the young back from Cedartown. With the exception of the day he ripped through three ligaments in his left knee on the first play of the Tennessee game last October, no opponent had ever held Chubb to fewer than 100 yards when he started at tailback for the Bulldogs.

Until last week.

Nicholls State did last Saturday what Alabama and Auburn and South Carolina and every other FBS opponent failed to do. The Colonels held Chubb under 100 yards. Eighty yards on 20 carries, to be exact. And Chubb and the Bulldogs had to rally for that. The tailback that came into the contest with a career per-carry average of 7.4 yards was sitting at 1.9-a-tote at halftime.

Worse, it wasn’t really a Chubb thing. He simply had nowhere to run against the FCS also-ran.

“I don’t care,” Chubb said unconvincingly of the streak ending. “Maybe y’all will leave me alone about that.”

So here Chubb and the Bulldogs are, back in Missouri and in desperate need of recapturing the magic first tapped that October Saturday two years ago. They have worked overtime this week in an attempt to do that.

It’s not hard pin-pointing the problem. Georgia’s revamped offensive line was getting manhandled most of the day, mainly by a couple of transfer defensive linemen from “Last Chance U” and a charging linebacker corps playing behind them.

“We had to look ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘with the best back in the country back there, there’s no way that he should’ve been held to only 80 yards,’” senior tackle Greg Pyke said. “It comes down to us getting our assignments right and (playing with) the right technique. That’s why you watch film on Sundays and Mondays. You come back out and try to make those corrections.”

Chubb had a hard time finding running room against Nicholls State, which held him to 80 yards on 20 carries. BRANT SANDERLIN / AJC

Some of the issue falls on the guys under center. It’s up to quarterbacks Jacob Eason and Greyson Lambert – whomever happens to be in the game – to recognize when a run play won’t work. Against Nicholls, the Bulldogs regularly were facing eight and nine players “in the box,” the area defined as within five yards of the offensive line of scrimmage.

On one first-and-goal play from the 7 in the fourth quarter, Eason ran a called off-tackle play against a 7-4 goal-line set. Chubb lost three yards. And when he threw a pass over a crowded middle of the field on the next down, it was intercepted and returned 90 yards the other direction.

“We have to go out and do a better job against a really good Missouri defensive line that is going to present a lot of the same challenges,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “They are a very athletic group, a very active group, a very disruptive group that has a lot of tackles-for-loss and movement. They do a very good job of doing that, so that would be the challenge for moving forward.”

“Moving forward” are the key words in that statement. The Bulldogs simply have to be able to move the ball forward with Chubb, Sony Michel and the other tailbacks for anything about their offense to work.

Chubb wasn’t available for interviews this week, but he reminisced fondly with about his last experience in Columbia, which represented so many firsts for him.

“I was a little bit nervous because Todd was such a leader on and off the field,” Chubb said. “I was feeling a little bit of pressure going into that game.”

It wasn’t like it was smooth sailing. Chubb’s longest run of the day was 18 yards and he didn’t score until his final carry of the day, a 9-yarder. At the end of the day, he averaged only 3.8 yards a carry. But Georgia kept giving it to him, and the Bulldogs kept moving the chains.

“Probably the toughest game I’ve ever played,” Chubb told ESPN.

Until last Saturday anyway.

NextFriday Five: Predictions for Georgia at Missouri
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