The questions about Nick Chubb a year ago entering Georgia’s season opener after coming back from a devastating knee injury seemed to be answered authoritatively when the running back gashed North Carolina for 222 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries.
It turned out not to be indicative of what was to come.
“We stayed ahead of the chains that game, we got a lot of movement,” Chubb said. “Everyone was just working together. I think we kind of lost that edge during the season. If we play with that every game, it will be great for us.”
Chubb averaged 63.5 yards the next six games (not including the one carry outing against Tennessee due to an ankle injury).
Better blocking at the point of attack from a much-maligned offensive line would boost the run game for Georgia, which enters a new season Saturday against Appalachian State. So could more freedom sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason expects to have to check plays at the line of scrimmage.
“Last year was more about understanding the offense versus reading the defense and checking and making a better play,” Eason said. “That was a big, big focus this offseason, was getting my mind right, and being able to see something and check into something.”
Chubb thinks that flexibility will offer a “better possibility, a better avenue,” to find holes to run through when Georgia won’t be outnumbered in the tackle box.
“It puts us in better position,” he said. “I think last year we kind of stuck with what we had no matter what, and I think we didn’t have the right numbers to run the play. That kind of hurt us sometimes. I think this year more freedom, allows us to get a better look for us, and to execute it.”
Chubb rushed for 1,130 yards and eight touchdowns last season relying, he says, on straight-line speed as he ran on a left knee surgically repaired after he tore three knee ligaments on Oct. 10, 2015 on the first play at Tennessee.
“Maybe a little quickness is back,” Chubb said. “Injuries are weird. I don’t know if I didn’t try or I just knew I couldn’t do it, but I do a lot of things now.”
The senior who bypassed entering the NFL draft tries not to think about the possibility of being injured again, but it crosses his mind when he is heading toward the sideline and remembers what former Georgia assistant Bryan McClendon taught him.
“I was always taught as a running back to get north,” he said. “I kind of let myself get to the sideline at Tennessee. Now I just attack and don’t go out of bounds.”
His body of work—3,424 career rushing yards and 29 touchdowns—still brings respect even if LSU’s Derrius Guice and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley get more national attention these days.
“I’ve been in that position where I was one of the top backs,” Chubb said.
Still, Chubb was a first-team preseason All-SEC selection and second-team preseason All-American by the Associated Press. If he matches his rushing yardage from last year, Chubb would rank No. 4 on the SEC’s all-time list.
“I just expect him to have a big year,” offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn said. “Not only him but just our whole running back corps. … As an offensive line unit, I’m looking forward to moving guys this year.”
Coach Kirby Smart said he’s seen a more explosive Chubb heading into this season.
“He’s out there, he’s a lot quicker, moving quicker,” Smart said. “You see flashbacks to his freshman year and some of his sophomore year where he was really quick, really explosive. I think a lot of those things are starting to show back up moreso than last year. I still think he was getting used to that that knee and kind of coming back.”
Chubb was limited in what he could do in the weight room prior to last season, but not this time around when he did things some offensive linemen can’t.
“I ain’t going to lie, I can’t even squat 600,” offensive guard Pat Allen said.
“Nick’s never going to change,” Eason said. “He’s a hard worker, one of the hardest workers on the team, if not the hardest worker on the team. He’s a steady, head-down, work-hard guy, and that’s what everybody notices with him, and that’s how he leads. It’s fun to watch him play.”
Chubb has spent the offseason trying to push his body to get it to where it was prior to his injury, something he said this week it now is.
“A lot of loads are off me,” Chubb said. “Just not worrying about that anymore. It’s in the past. I’m just looking forward to try and make big plays.”