ATHENS – Nick Chubb wasn’t himself Saturday. Oh, he ran hard, and he gained a lot of yards, and he scored some touchdowns. That we’ve all seen before.
What we haven’t seen was Chubb celebrating and dancing. Well, sort of dancing.
He climbed on top of the cheerleaders’ platform in front of the UGA student section and celebrated Georgia’s 42-13 win over Kentucky with Sony Michel and the Bulldogs’ other seniors. Arm-in-arm, they sang and cheered and barked and laughed a little and smiled a lot and posed for a few thousand pictures.
“Believe it or not, that was my first time ever doing that,” Chubb said in a postgame interview underneath the East End grandstands at Sanford Stadium. “I kind of saved it up for this moment.”
Oh, we believe it, Nick. It was unlike anything we’ve seen before from the usually stoic tailback. For 42 games at Georgia, we’ve watched him smile and wave politely to the crowd as he jogged off the field after another one of his 100-yard rushing nights. No matter the gravity of the victory or how much he contributed to it, Chubb was never one to jump in the stands or dance some kind of jig.
Usually, he would slap a few hands on his way to the nearest field exit and maybe toss a sweatband or some gloves a kid’s way.
“I had to convince him,” Michel, his roommate and backfield mate, said afterward. “It’s hard to convince him to do things like that.”
It’s about time the young man showed some emotion. He deserved it. There was much to celebrate on this unseasonably warm and fuzzy senior night, much of it Chubb’s own doing.
So he broke loose on a 55-yard touchdown run. That was a season-long run and gave Chubb 45 rushing TDs for his career (12 for the season). That moves him to second on Georgia’s all-time list behind Herschel Walker (52), a theme you’re going to hear a lot in this space.
That was Chubb’s second TD of the game, making it the 14th time he has scored 2 or more in a game. That run also put him at 151 yards on the day, making it the 23rd time he has surpassed the century mark. And it also put him over 1,000 yards for the season. He has 1,045 yards this year, so he stands now with Walker as the only two backs in Georgia history with three 1,000-yard seasons.
It seems appropriate to interject here that Chubb had 747 yards when his sophomore season ended after five games with a left knee injury. If not for that, he would’ve had four.
“It’s an honor,” Chubb said of sharing a few more marks with Walker. “That’s great company to have. Just to be with him, me and him, man, I’m happy about that.”
You might note that it’s now really the only comparison to make with Chubb anymore, him and Walker. Chubb has eclipsed everybody else in Georgia history.
What’s more, he’s doing it in this day and age. Not to take anything away from Walker or Bo Jackson or Marcus Dupree or any of those players who thought nothing of carrying the ball 30 times per week. Chubb is doing what he’s doing in an era when SEC defenses don’t fall far down from NFL squads in terms of athletic pedigree and dedication to stuffing the run.
And he’s also doing it during a time in which coaches prefer their lead back share carries with others. While Chubb enters the 12th game of his fourth season with 701 carries, his best buddy Michel has 546.
That’s what I was thinking about when I asked Georgia coach Kirby Smart if he thought Chubb is underappreciated in terms of national acclaim.
Smart went on a rant.
“Yeah, I certainly feel like he’s underappreciated,” he said. “I don’t know how you guys feel, but I appreciate what he’s done in an era where rushing the ball is really, really hard. It’s gotten harder and harder and harder. I’ve got no statistics to prove it, but I’d venture to say Herschel ran for his [yards] in an era where people were rushing the ball for a lot of yards. I’m not diminishing what Herschel did. I’m just enlightening people to Nick Chubb has rushed for three thousand-yard seasons in the SEC, the toughest conference in the country to run the ball. That’s pretty remarkable.
“And he did it alongside another back that is maybe just as talented as he is. What would he have done with 30 or 40 carries? Who knows. But I’m sure his body appreciates it.”
Everybody is starting to appreciate a little more. It’s kind of like the old adage, you don’t really appreciate something or somebody until they’re gone.
Well, Chubb’s not gone yet, but he’s almost out the door. Saturday was his final game in Sanford Stadium. He was one of 31 seniors the Bulldogs honored during senior day ceremonies before the game.
That, Chubb said afterward, already had him feeling a little different before the game. He blamed Georgia’s slow start Saturday on those emotional proceedings, a rite of passage for seniors playing their last game between the hedges.
The Bulldogs finally shook loose from their early doldrums. They needed Jake Fromm to hit a few passes downfield to get the running game going. When it finally did, it was devastating to Kentucky’s overmatched defense.
Chubb’s teammates sensed something from him Saturday. He seemed a little quicker, a little more shifty than usual. He broke through for his first TD on an 8-yard run late in the first quarter. On the second play of the fourth, Chubb bounced an off-tackle dive outside and down the left sideline. Three Kentucky defenders who seemed to have angles to run him down did not.
It was a 55-yard touchdown and gave the Bulldogs a 35-13 lead.
“He looked fast on that run,” chirped Michel, who likes to tease Chubb about being faster.
Chubb sounded very Herschel-esque in describing the sensational play.
“It was great blocking,” he said. “I don’t think I got touched. I kind of hit the sideline wide open, so it was great blocking up front.”
Same old Chubb there. But we’d learn later it was a different kind of night. There he was, the muscle-bound captain who never mugs for cameras or does touchdown poses, grinning from ear-to-ear and laughing and glad-handing fans and hugging teammates.
For a few minutes, he seemed almost like a regular college student. But as we all know, he’s anything but.
“It was a great moment,” Chubb said of his uncharacteristic celebration. “I know that’s my last time leaving that field as a Georgia Bulldog. That’s something I can never have back, so I had to enjoy it.”
We did, too, Nick. We did, too.