Georgia running back Nick Chubb is generally a man of few words. He’s a man of even fewer words when the Bulldogs struggle to run the ball like they did on Saturday.
Chubb was Georgia’s leading rusher in the 26-24 victory over Nicholls State, but that was not something worth gushing about for the junior tailback. He managed only 80 yards on 20 carries, which was the first time he has ever recorded under 100 rushing yards in a game he started and finished. He also had a costly fumble in the second quarter, the sixth of his collegiate career.
Georgia as a team finished with 167 rushing yards, only 42 more than its FCS opponent.
This kind of performance would have surely been acceptable last week. It was Chubb’s first game since his gnarly knee injury last October, and the North Carolina defense had the potential to be formidable at stopping the run. There would not be a pitch count on Chubb, but few would bat an eye if his comeback took a slow-and-steady pace.
Instead, Chubb took off for 222 yards against the Tar Heels, which made Saturday’s performance even more puzzling.
There was little that Chubb offered when asked about what happened. Maybe it’s because he himself wasn’t sure about what exactly had gone wrong.
“Nicholls State is very good,” Chubb said. “A win's a win. That's all that matters.”
Of course, not all the blame on the run game falls on Chubb. Georgia’s offensive line struggled to win the line-of-scrimmage battle against the Colonels, which creates more concern after those same linemen looked suspect at times against North Carolina.
There were a few moments when the running backs had gaping holes that were left vacant, but for the most part, Chubb and his teammates had very little to work with. It’s a discouraging development considering Nicholls State gave up 244 rushing yards per game a year ago.
“I never really thought we pushed North Carolina around,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “We ran the ball well, but we didn't manhandle them upfront. I expressed that last week. These guys, they didn't have dominate inside guys; they just whipped us.”
The rotation of offensive linemen for the Bulldogs continued on Saturday. Georgia plugged and played several options throughout the contest, which included moving Tyler Catalina out from his left tackle position and instead placing Isaiah Wynn at that spot and Dyshon Sims at left guard. Try as they might, the new faces at the different spots rendered nearly the same results.
One of those considerably affected by the offensive line instability is Chubb, who did help his side have a somewhat happy ending to the dreadful afternoon. With Georgia facing a third-and-three, Chubb cut right while the hard-charging Colonels came left. The result was a 7-yard gain that allowed Georgia to run out the clock.
Still, helping his team squeak out a win over a Southland Conference opponent is a far cry from being in the early Heisman Trophy conversation as he was last week.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Chubb said.
For a player like Chubb, what else was there to say?