ATHENS -- There might not be a better stable of running backs in the country than what Georgia has at its disposal.
Even with Todd Gurley’s departure to the NFL, Georgia returns three backs who would have opportunities to start at most other FBS programs. Nick Chubb finished second in the SEC with 1,547 rushing yards and tied for first with 14 touchdowns on the ground. Running the ball will be Georgia’s focal point, even if opposing defenses know exactly what’s coming based on their pre-snap reads. A year ago, the Bulldogs ran the ball at will and averaged 257.8 rushing yards per game. With four returning offensive linemen, the running backs should be ready to roll when the season kicks off in September.
The players: Chubb enters the season as not only the best back in the SEC but possibly the best runner in the country. Beginning the 2014 season fourth on the depth chart, Chubb got 11 or fewer carries in the first five games of the season. With injuries taking a toll, Chubb stepped in and took over, rushing for an average of 165.4 yards per game in his final eight outings. Chubb will be Georgia’s lead back, but he’ll have plenty of help. Sony Michel and Keith Marshall will receive plenty of touches in the rotation. Both Michel and Marshall are known for their speed and should provide a change of pace in the backfield. With backs as talented as Chubb, Michel and Marshall, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer create some packages in which two running backs are on the field at the same time.
Making this group even deeper is the fact that Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman are the fourth and fifth backs. Douglas has plenty of game experience, and Turman totaled 106 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries in the spring game.
Expectations: If the Bulldogs don’t have at a top 15 rushing attack in the nation it could be seen as a disappointment. Georgia was 12th in the nation and eighth in points scored at 41.3 in 2014. Running the ball is an extremely important part of Georgia’s identity at the moment, especially with the Bulldogs breaking in a new quarterback and rotating in some new receivers. Chubb is getting some Heisman Trophy attention, which has placed his personal expectations at a level Gurley saw last preseason. Georgia head coach Mark Richt has done his part to temper those thoughts about his sophomore back.
“Rarely does a guy win a Heisman if he’s not on a team that’s winning at a very high level,” Richt said. “So the team is going to fight like mad to win, and if something like that happens, that would be wonderful.”
Outlook: Georgia’s running back group has the chance to once again total an average of 40 carries per game. It also has the ability to do this without running one of the backs into the ground with overuse. Ideally, Chubb would receive a maximum of 20 carries per game as the Bulldogs’ power runner, with Michel, Marshall, Douglas and Turman divvying up the other 20. Michel and Marshall will have the chance to receive the bulk of the carries behind Chubb, with the number of quality backs adding insurance in case of injury.