For all the angst about Georgia’s passing game, and those concerns are real, this point needs reminding: The Bulldogs’ rushing attack may again be good enough to carry the offense.
Georgia this year has the luxury of shrugging off the departure of the second-leading rusher in school history, who could be a high first-round pick on Thursday. It already knows what life will be like without him, and it knows it has talent beyond just the starter.
There was some excitement this spring about A.J. Turman, the redshirt sophomore who put up good numbers in the scrimmages. But Turman is still at best fourth on the depth chart, and still might actually be fifth. It’s by no fault of his own. Georgia is just that loaded.
That’s probably the most reassuring thing for Georgia: It doesn’t all rest with Nick Chubb. At least it won’t as long as everyone stays healthy, which is the only question.
Sony Michel, who averaged an astounding 6.04 yards per carry last year, has now dealt with two separate shoulder injuries. Keith Marshall was finally looking like his old self at bowl practice last year, then had to sit out G-Day with a hamstring injury. Turman has battled toe problems the past year.
Everyone is expected to be healthy for the summer. At that point the Bulldogs can only hope for the best, but prepare for the unforeseen.
When at their best, however, Georgia’s rushing attack is legitimately spectacular. Look back at last year’s opener, when Gurley racked up 198 yards, but Chubb and Michel chipped in 103 between them. In that game, Georgia ended up with 328 rushing yards, averaging eight yards a carry, against a Clemson defense that finished 2014 ranked fifth in the nation in the running defense. (And that’s including the stats from the Georgia game.)
Even after the injuries and suspension struck, Georgia’s running game was still great: 207 yards against Arkansas (the nation’s 12th-best run defense last year), 292 yards against Louisville (10th-best run defense), 210 yards against Missouri (26th-best run defense).
It wasn’t a volume thing either. Georgia set a school record last year for yards per carry (6.04).
So, basically, you get the point.
Here are where things stand entering the summer at both backfield positions:
STARTER: Nick Chubb, Soph.
TOP BACKUPS: Sony Michel, Soph.; Keith Marshall, Jr.
OTHERS: Brendan Douglas, Jr.; A.J. Turman, Soph.
ON THE WAY: Tae Crowder, Fr.
THE SKINNY: The only question with Chubb, besides staying healthy and away from memorabilia dealers, is whether his workload should and will dissipate this season.
After Gurley’s suspension, Chubb carried it an average of 23.5 times the rest of the season, and that includes a couple blowouts (Charleston Southern and Kentucky) when he was pulled pretty quickly. Is such a workload sustainable? Everyone says it is, but everyone also knows it’s not preferable.
That brings us to the health of the other tailbacks. The good news about Michel is it’s his upper body, so his speed should be just fine. It’s only a matter of his ability and willingness to absorb contact. Marshall’s issue was his knee, and for as much as teammates and coaches said he looked back to normal, the true test is when the games count.
Douglas is Mr. Reliable, a fallback option in the best sense. Yes, he’s not the dynamic breakaway threat that the others are. But he gains yards, and he’s experienced. It says something that the coaches have still shown no sign of even thinking of moving him to fullback.
Turman’s spring was very encouraging, considering that his first two seasons on campus were basically lost years. If he can carry it into the preseason, he will have a chance to get carries in games. Remember, Georgia’s early-season schedule will allow multiple players to get their feet wet. Chubb won’t be needed to carry it 30 times against Louisiana-Monroe.
Crowder, the only running back signed in the class, had a similar path as Douglas: Offered a scholarship late to Georgia after being committed to another state school (Georgia Southern in Crowder’s case.) The 6-foot-3 Crowder isn’t likely to contribute much right away, but Douglas wasn’t expected to either. So you never know.
STARTER: Quayvon Hicks, Sr.
TOP BACKUP: Christian Payne, Soph.
OTHERS: Glenn Welch, Soph.; Dominic Bryan, Jr.; Cameron Faulkner, Sr.; Matthew Fox, R-Fr.; Clete Miller, Fr.
ON THE WAY: None.
THE SKINNY: It was a quiet spring for Hicks, whose role still isn’t quite clear. Is he a full-time fullback, or more of an H-back? Given Brian Schottenheimer’s NFL background, the latter seems more likely. It does seem clear that tight end is off the table, with the possible exception of a package or two.
Behind Hicks, Georgia has the usual army of walk-ons, a few of whom you can count on to contribute at some point. Payne has emerged as the top guy after the spring. Welch, younger brother of former walk-on quarterback Parker Welch, is also in the mix.
It remains to be seen how much the fullback remains involved in Georgia’s offense. But again, considering the clear strength of this team is the running game, you should see a good amount of two-back sets.
Next up: The quarterbacks.