John Atkins was scrolling through his Facebook timeline Sunday night when he came across a 2-year-old video.
As Atkins, Georgia’s senior defensive lineman, looked at his screen, he saw Sony Michel catch a pass, juke a South Carolina defender and run toward the goal line. Michel lowered his right shoulder at the entrance to the end zone, knocking would-be-tackler Jordan Diggs to his stomach. Michel scored standing up.
“That was a great hit because it demoralized their team when they (saw) that,” Atkins said.
Against South Carolina last Saturday, Michel demoralized the Gamecocks again.
In the first half, South Carolina appeared to have Michel bottled up at the line of scrimmage. But Michel, who is in the midst of the best season of his career, redirected his path toward the sideline and scored.
Then in the second half, when South Carolina trailed by seven points, Michel caught a pass and juked preseason All-SEC linebacker Skai Moore at the first down marker en route to a 16-yard reception on third down. The Sanford Stadium crowd roared.
Asked if Michel ever jukes him out at practice, inside linebacker Reggie Carter laughed.
“All the time,” Carter said.
When Michel came to Georgia, he was regarded as a speed tailback, the lightning to Nick Chubb’s thunder. Except for when Chubb missed half of the 2015 season with a knee injury, Michel has been a complementary piece during his career instead of the featured back.
This season, Michel has gained 710 yards rushing, putting him on track to surpass the 1,000-yard benchmark for the second time. With Georgia spreading playing time amongst its five running backs, Michel has yet to receive more than 16 carries during a game.
Buoyed by a six-carry, 137-yard performance against Florida, Michel has averaged 7.9 yards per rush this season — a full two yards more than his past two seasons.
Asked how he has gained more yards with less touches Michel said, “My whole idea is just to go out there and play ball, do what I can to help this football team in any way.”
Head coach Kirby Smart said he has been most impressed with Michel’s leadership during Georgia’s thus-far undefeated season, but he also believes Michel, who has rushed for a career-high nine touchdowns, is tougher and quicker than in years past.
Against Missouri, Michel lowered his shoulder into defensive back DeMarkus Acy. The hit removed Acy from the game for a time. Two weeks later, Michel sped away from the Florida defense for a 74-yard score, Georgia’s longest play this season.
“He has gotten more powerful,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said.
Entering No. 1 Georgia’s game against Auburn on Saturday, Michel sits fifth on Georgia’s all-time rushing list. By the end of the season, he will likely be third behind Herschel Walker and Chubb. Michel needs 165 yards to pass Todd Gurley for third on the list.
“I think he’s much more driven,” Smart said of Michel’s play this season. “I think when you have a purpose you tend to be more driven, and he seems more driven.”