There were several areas of uncertainty for Georgia entering the 2016 season. The team’s run game wasn’t supposed to be one of them.
The Bulldogs’ bread and butter for the last few seasons has been toast through four games. Although Georgia ran roughshod over North Carolina to open the season to the tune of 289 yards, the team has struggled to hit the big play on the ground since then.
In Georgia’s first two SEC games this season, it has managed only five runs of 15 yards or more, which was a trademark of when the offense was rolling in recent years. In last season’s loss to Alabama, which was Nick Chubb’s final full game of 2015, the team registered four such runs.
A considerable part of Georgia’s struggles with the run game falls on the offensive line, which has struggled to open up lanes for any of the team’s five running backs. The explosiveness from the North Carolina game has been nowhere to be found since then, and it certainly stands as an issue for the linemen involved.
Center Brandon Kublanow was audibly disappointed in how the entire offensive line and run blocked, especially for junior running back Nick Chubb.
Chubb reemerged as a Heisman contender with his impressive 222 rushing yards against the Tar Heels, which included a 55-yard touchdown run that sealed the game. Chubb has been held to only 200 rushing yards by the next three opponents and left the Ole Miss game in the second quarter with an ankle injury.
“It definitely hits me pretty hard,” Kublanow said of the team’s run-blocking problems. “It's disappointing … Nick's a great player. I still think he's probably the best running back in the nation.”
Kublanow wouldn’t pinpoint what exactly has gone wrong with the team’s blocking but did say he’s aware of what needs work this week.
Georgia’s matchup with Tennessee was supposed to be a milestone for Chubb considering he suffered his knee injury against the Volunteers last October. His injury against the Rebels, however, leaves his status for Saturday in question. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said the team won’t know whether or not he can play until later this week, thus creating even more uncertainty about the Bulldogs’ ground game.
As a result, Georgia has to get its other running backs ready in case Chubb is sidelined once again.
Elijah Holyfield joined the Bulldogs’ group of viable options in the loss to Ole Miss. After sitting out the first three games, the true freshman came in once the game was well out of reach and registered four carries for 27 yards.
Holyfield had been on the edge of playing for the last few games prior to the Ole Miss matchup. With Chubb’s availability now in question, Smart and the coaching staff can at least take solace in that they now have four other players who have played the position this season.
“I think getting Elijah some experience in a game was valuable,” Smart said. “Really, we had been wanting to do that. It wasn't like that we were holding back; it was just there were only so many guys you can get carries to.”
Kublanow sounded optimistic about Chubb’s availability for Tennessee. He said he understood how big this particular game would be for Chubb, and that his expectations for Chubb are just as high as Chubb’s are of himself.
If Chubb does in fact suit up against the Volunteers, Kublanow made it clear his fellow linemen need to do more to give No. 27 more wide-open space to work with.
“The kid deserves better blocking,” Kublanow said. “Hopefully, that's what we'll give him. We'll go to work this week.”