ATHENS – Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had just come back from fly-fishing a month ago when he got the bad news: Sony Michel, who he thought would be his starting tailback, had broken his arm in an ATV accident.
How did Chaney react?
“I changed to a wet fly that afternoon when I went out to try catch some better trout,” Chaney said. “What am I going to do about it?”
Michel may yet be able to return early this season, and the blow is softened every time Chaney sees Nick Chubb take a positive step. Still, the situation is instructive for what went wrong last year for Georgia’s offense – and Chaney’s too, at Pittsburgh.
Chaney was running Pittsburgh’s offense last year when tailback James Connor tore a ligament in his right knee during the season opener. Conner, suffice to say, had been a big part of Chaney’s plans: Conner was the 2014 ACC Player of the Year.
“I did have (Connor), for about half a quarter,” Chaney said. “And then what happens? Next guy in.”
But it wasn’t the only injury Chaney dealt with last year: The projected starter at right tackle dislocated his knee after a practice and was lost for the season. Minus those two key players, Pittsburgh finished last season ranked 82nd nationally in total offense – one spot ahead of Georgia.
And Georgia, like Pitt, had to deal with its own unwanted in-season change of plans: Chubb’s injury, on the first play of the Tennessee game, derailed everything. That should be taken into account, according to SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy, who as a New York Jets quarterback spent one season with Brian Schottenheimer as his coach and offensive coordinator.
McElroy defended Scottenheimer, pointing to Chubb’s injury, and the fact that it forced Sony Michel into a different, and less potent, role in the offense.
“(Schottenheimer) does a really good job featuring players, and that’s what Sony Michel was the first few games of the season,” McElroy said. “Moving him around and out of the backfield, having him and Chubb on the field at the same time it’s a difficult match-up (for the defense) he was trying to create. But when he got put out in the backfield you lost a very explosive, versatile weapon. So I don’t think it necessarily didn’t work. I just think circumstances were very difficult to overcome, given some of the issues they had as far as talent is concerned.”
That’s not to say Schottenheimer’s critics — and there were many — were being unfair. Even McElroy brought up that he was surprised Georgia didn’t use the tight ends more last year.
Chaney’s past use of the tight end points to that not being a problem this year. But what happened to him last year at Pitt and to Schottenheimer at Georgia, was hard to overcome in season. Which is why Chaney reacted so coolly to Michel’s ATV injury.
As unfortunate as it was, it happened early enough for Chaney to adjust his plans.
“Now, is it disappointing? Certainly, because I think Sony is a super football player. And there were specific installation plays that I’ve slowed down and pushed back a little bit, depending on his health,” Chaney said. “But at the end of the day, I feel comfortable Sony will be back and he’ll be ready to roll and I’m excited about it. I love the kid. I love his spirit. I love his attitude. Things happen, man, they happen. You move on. It’s not for me to worry about too much.”