ATHENS, Ga. — Nick Chubb looked as strong and durable as ever.
Optimism is soaring at No. 18 Georgia about its running game — and not only because of Chubb, but all the backfield help for the tailback looming on the horizon has the staff beaming.
Chubb made a remarkable return only 10 months after tearing three ligaments in his left knee as he had 32 carries for 222 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 33-24 opening win over No. 22 North Carolina on Saturday.
He showed power, speed and endurance in his impressive return from last season’s gruesome injury. His 32nd carry was a 55-yard touchdown run.
Though Chubb was not available for interviews on Monday, compliments from his teammates were still flowing even as coach Kirby Smart attempted to shift the attention to this week’s game against Nicholls.
“To come back from that type of injury and to hit the ground running like that and have that many yards and that much success in one game is just amazing,” said cornerback Maurice Smith.
Added fullback Christian Payne: “He’s a freak. He has tons of God-given ability. He’s blessed. I knew when he got hurt he would come back even stronger. … I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Chubb’s big game may have been only an indicator of more to come from Georgia’s running game.
Sony Michel, who ran for 1,161 yards last season, most coming after Chubb’s injury, was held out against North Carolina while he recovers from a broken left forearm. Michel ran so well in pregame warmups that Smart noted after the game the junior was “tearing it up.”
Meanwhile, freshman Brian Herrien flashed his speed on his 19-yard touchdown run. Another freshman, Elijah Holyfield, the son of former boxing champion Evander Holyfield, was held out with an ankle injury. Senior Brendan Douglas ran for 23 yards on three carries.
Smart said Monday Holyfield almost was cleared to play against North Carolina and will receive more practice reps this week in anticipation of playing against Nicholls (0-0). Michel appears ready as soon as he receives clearance from his doctor.
As tailback depth grows for Georgia (1-0), it’s possible that 30-carry games for Chubb will become a rarity.
Smart said his plan for sharing carries could change each week.
“We’ll go with the hot hand, whoever that is and what style defense they’re playing,” Smart said, adding “You just can’t become predictable. That’s going to change game by game and how those kids practice during the week.”
Smith, the Alabama transfer, said Michel and Holyfield will make the offense stronger.
“I think once they get back we’ll definitely have a stronger running game,” Smith said.
Chubb used hard work to remain ahead of schedule throughout his recovery. Still, it would have been difficult to predict 32 carries in his first game since the injury.
Smart gave credit to Chubb’s weight-room work with director of strength and conditioning Scott Sinclair, improving in his bench press and squat.
“He feels much more conditioned and stronger as a running back,” Smart said. “It was evident that he was able to run through some tackles in the fourth quarter because he’s such a powerful low body guy.”
Chubb’s re-emergence was perhaps more important to Georgia’s championship hopes than the ongoing competition between Greyson Lambert and Jacob Eason for the starting job at quarterback. Lambert started in the opener but shared time with Eason, the freshman.
Smart said he will continue to give reps to both quarterbacks in practice “and make a decision as to what we’re going to do, whether it’s later in the week, or game time.”
NOTE: Smart said LG Isaiah Wynn, who left Saturday’s game with a leg injury, would be back for Monday’s practice.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org