Freshmen running backs key to Bulldogs’ success.
Georgia Bulldogs running back Sony Michel (1) runs with the ball against the Troy Trojans during the first half at Sanford Stadium. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY)
Athens, Ga. (C+P) — The Bulldogs knew they landed a plethora of talent with this year’s incoming freshmen class. However, with the number of returning starters on offense it was not clear how much playing time the newcomers would get. Three games into the season, a few freshmen have emerged as key contributors to the Georgia offense.
Freshman running back Sony Michel is coming off a remarkable performance against Troy on Saturday, September 20. Michel carried the ball ten times for 155 yards and three touchdowns. He helped the Bulldogs dominate the ground game while also allowing Todd Gurley to play sparingly.
The Florida native has been quite effective this season, averaging 10.3 yards per carry. He has run the ball 20 times for 206 yards and three touchdowns while also catching five passes for 58 yards and one touchdown. After a strong outing against Clemson, Michel became a more integral part of the offense.
In the season opener, he saw quite a bit of playing time. Michel carried the ball six times for 33 yards, and also caught three passes for 20 yards. His versatility as a running back makes him extremely valuable to the offense.
Nick Chubb has also been a bright spot for the Georgia offense. The freshman is coming off a thumb surgery that limited him against Troy. Prior to this surgery, Chubb had eight carries for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Chubb proved himself in the Clemson game running the ball four times for 74 yards, including an impressive 47-yard touchdown. The freshman did his best Herschel Walker impression on the touchdown as he ran through multiple Clemson defenders on his way to the end zone. This run put Georgia up 38-21 with 8:53 left, essentially sealing the win for the Bulldogs.
The development of these two backs is crucial to the success of the Georgia offense as it takes some of the burdens off of Heisman-hopeful Todd Gurley. Allowing Gurley to run the ball less means a better chance that he stays healthy and avoids a repeat of his injury-plagued sophomore season.
Another freshman that has begun to standout for the Bulldogs is Michel’s high-school teammate, Isaiah Mckenzie. The wide receiver may be the most versatile player on the Georgia offense as he is used in the running, passing and even return game. On ten touches this season, Mckenzie has gained a total of 195 yards, the longest of which was a 52-yard punt return for a touchdown against Troy. With so much success on limited touches, look for the freshman wide out to see more playing time in the upcoming games.
While receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are still recovering from injuries, Georgia needs speedy targets to emerge in the passing game. Mckenzie can fill that void and give Hutson Mason a deep threat option. Once Mitchell and Wesley return, he will be an excellent complement to their speed on the edge.
The next game for Georgia is a matchup against rival Tennessee on Saturday. The Volunteers come into this game after losing to No. 4 Oklahoma 34-10, and are looking for a much different outcome this weekend. The Bulldogs have won the last four matchups against Tennessee, three of which were by eight points or less. Georgia will need to use its depth to help wear down the Volunteers’ defense. Look for Chubb, Mckenzie and Michel to help make that happen on Saturday.