Whether due to injuries, struggling offenses or their teams plummeting from the national elite, the most prominent running backs before the season are no longer in the mix for the Heisman Trophy.
LSU's Leonard Fournette, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, Florida State's Dalvin Cook and Oregon's Royce Freeman are not in the picture for college football's top individual award, and the same can be said for Nick Chubb at Georgia. Chubb rushed 16 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's 28-14 victory at South Carolina, but that was his first 100-yard game since powering past North Carolina for 222 yards on 32 carries in the opener.
Chubb missed the second half of the Ole Miss game on Sept. 24 with what he calls an ankle "tweak," which limited him to one carry the following week against Tennessee.
"That's part of the game," Chubb said. "You will always have ups and downs, so you just have to stay focused."
After working hard for 11 months following his tearing of multiple knee ligaments on the first play of last year's game at Tennessee, the 5-foot-10, 228-pound junior from Cedartown had a dazzling return against UNC in the Georgia Dome. Chubb, however, was held to 80 yards in the next game against Nicholls State and 63 in the third contest against Missouri.
Chubb tested his ankle against the Volunteers after the setback in Oxford, but his one rush for 3 yards wound up being his only play in the game.
In Sunday's triumph, Chubb looked fresh, rushing for 18 yards on the first play of the game and capping Georgia's inaugural drive with a 15-yard touchdown. He had a 40-yard run midway through the third quarter, pulling Gamecocks defensive back Chris Lammons for about 10 yards before breaking free.
Georgia first-year coach Kirby Smart marveled during the offseason at Chubb's effort and focus during his recovery, and he is impressed with how he has handled the season as well. Fellow junior running back Sony Michel began this season on the sideline due to a fractured foreman that he suffered during an ATV accident in July, but his rushing yardage has increased in each of the five games since.
Michel had a season-best 133 yards in Columbia, marking the first time both he and Chubb surpassed 100 yards in the same game. Smart is hopeful of having many more days like that.
"It's comforting to have both guys, because you know you've got two really football players," Smart said during Tuesday's news conference. "Not only are they great players, but they're really good leaders on our team. They kind of motivate the rest of the team by the way they run the ball, because when you see a guy run through an arm tackle or you see a guy with really good toughness, I think it inspires the offensive line and receivers to block harder.facebook
"The guys sitting over there and resting on defense play with more energy and passion when they see their backs churn for more yards."
Despite missing essentially six quarters, Chubb ranks fourth among Southeastern Conference rushers with 546 yards on 100 carries. He has scored five touchdowns.
Chubb has nothing but optimism for the second half of the season, which starts Saturday with a visit from Vanderbilt.
"I feel great, but I always feel good," he said. "I think we're all doing a great job. We've got a lot of good guys blocking for us. The wideouts are blocking for us.
"Everyone has a part in the job, and I think we're all executing well."
Sophomore defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter is eligible this week after serving a six-game suspension for a pair of alcohol-related arrests earlier this year.
"He's handled everything we've asked him to do," Smart said. "He has worked really hard, and the best thing he's done is made our offense better. In the six weeks he was over there, he got scout-team player of the week three or four times. He was taking a lot of reps and was very disruptive."
Smart added that Ledbetter has been emulating the likes of Missouri's Charles Harris and Tennessee's Derek Barnett and that the 6-foot-4, 269-pounder can aid a defense that totaled just six sacks through the first five games before collecting five on Sunday.
"He has worked really hard on that part of his game," Smart said. "I've talked about how we have nobody in that 250- to 290-pound range, so we have really big guys or we have outside backers. Jonathan falls in that mold."
Odds and ends
Georgia holds a 55-19-2 series lead over Vanderbilt, which is 0-9 in SEC road games under third-year coach Derek Mason.... Smart said junior inside linebacker Reggie Carter (concussion) was cleared to play Sunday but was going to be used only in an emergency.... Smart on the shortened week: "We've put in longer hours as coaches, and we're making decisions a little quicker than you're comfortable with."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.