Out in California, well before they took his Heisman back and a couple years before the coach basically ran out of town and college athletics ahead of probation, USC was the standard bearer for dominance in college football, expressed most purely in the elegant form of Reggie Bush. His dynamism and sheer athleticism could take your breath away, the way that Michael Vick made plays in college. The way Knowshon Moreno made plays in college. Bush did that for them, playing in underappreciated synchronicity with physical hammer runner LenDale White, until their early 2000s dynasty ended to Texas at the Rose Bowl in a classic national championship game.
Their defense and special teams advantages then nearly resembled what Bama has done lately. They had two Heisman quarterbacks pass through, plus the whole West Coast on lock. And, dudes were getting paid. While I marveled most at their ability to convert first downs, as they rarely saw third and unmanageable situations, because White chunked out so much early series yardage between the tackles.
Meanwhile, Reggie Bush performed some of the most graceful football acts since Lynn Swann floated for the Steelers. Bush had a Tony D like explosion of speed in his arsenal, plus the body control of a ballerina and a Hollywood flare for the dramatic. Chubb is our feature player, but his powerful style reminds me of White, while Michel has shown flashes of almost Bush-like agility and quick athleticism. USC found creative ways to get Bush the ball, while he still took plenty of handoffs.
Somewhat lost in our tough five-loss season, we are witnessing greatness in the backfield of the University of Georgia right now. Powerful Nick Chubb has shown major moxie and heart as he enters 2017 a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Sounds nearly blasphemous around here, but I’ll show exactly how he could potentially catch the inimitable Herschel Walker in total career yards.
His roommate is a man of unlimited potential and so many talents, too. A top aspiration plateau, the line of 2,000 pure rushing yards in a year has only been reached once in our conference. That was in an unrecognizably long recent fifteen-game season; please just imagine Herschel with fifteen Saturdays of work. If things go perfectly and Georgia is a national title contender in year two of the Smart era, I could actually see rapper Flyguy2stackz, better known as senior running back Sony Michel – check out his fun UGA Anthem Remix featuring Rich Homie Quan, the hook is “UGA We Ballin'” – shouldering a lot of the offensive load. Imagine him fully earning his moniker by going for two thousand in total yardage. He would clearly have to be one of our top receivers, which I see potentially happening with our leading returning receiver (Terry Godwin) having a meager 400 yards last year.
Sony first started as a wide out as a true freshman when the receiving corps were suffering from injuries and attrition, catching a big ball early down the field in a heartbreaking loss at South Carolina. Now, I see him coming out of the backfield much more and also being the focal point beneficiary on a regular variety of slightly special and even a few key trick plays. For really approaching two stacks of yardage, that too would probably have to include some kick returns, say either later in the year when we really need it, or much sooner if the new special teams starters replacing his high school teammate “Joystick” don’t immediately pan out. Real shame little playmaker McKenzie didn’t keep up the academics to stay at UGA this year; what a special season he had as a junior. Sony, and everybody else are back, though, y’all, and that includes our tank, our hammer. Nick Chubb is power.
Recently at SEC Media Days, SEC Network television studio analysts agreed across the board that Sony was the best all around versatile utility back in our football league. While Chubb is up for top running back and overall player, though his complete return to pre-injury form is still questioned.
The top 10 at Georgia is epic, and Sony is already Georgia’s 9th all-time leading rusher with a thousand yard year in replacement of Chubb after the gruesome injury at Tennessee. Let me go off topic here for a sentence and just throw in I see Chubb pounding them for a couple hundred this season. Yes, Sony showed his mettle as a lead rusher on a ten-win team in 2015. In a travesty-how-limited-his-opportunities debut coaching campaign, Sony only eked out 800 yards rushing last season, including the game of his life versus Georgia Tech. He should have had way more touches in the middle of the season after returning from a recreational non-football preseason injury. Michel went egregiously underused by the coaching staff, who appeared flummoxed at the time with how to use a big gunslinger true freshman passer and by a lack upfront of top-tier overall talent on the offensive line.
Chubb steadily rather than dynamically put up under 1,200 yards as a junior and needs the same, a little less than 1,200 this year to move into 2nd on the all-time SEC yardage list. But, looking at his freshman year for the ages and what he accomplished in that shortened timeframe – remember the first 8 games were basically all Gurley, though Chubb had been in the game in the opener, where he ripped a tired Clemson defense Gurley had worn out, in a late blowout in Athens.
He averaged 7 yards a run and put up an eye-popping 1,547, actually matching my classmate Garrison Hearst’s best full year (1992). No other years in Georgia football history stood before those years that were not made by Herschel (1980-1982), who has the top three. Throw in 7 or 8 more games on Chubb’s per game average or give him Gurley’s yardage from those games, and he’d have had a Herschel-like yardage total. Now, keep in mind the seasons were once shorter and the NCAA does not recognize any of the bowl yardage from that era. Chubb padded his stats big time in the two bowl games he was healthy and has 3,424 career rushing yards.
Chasing Herschel: Walker has 5,259 yards (2nd, Darren McFadden’s 4,590). If Nick Chubb passes Herschel, even if he gets close enough to really bare down on the SEC record, he may win the Heisman. Put a Heisman winner with our D and we necessarily have a huge year. The Dawgs are slight favorites over Florida (three game winning streak at the Cocktail Party) to win the SEC East, creating another game, and then the College Football Playoff and biggest prize are still out there. It’d take 14-1 for it all. Even a bowl and SEC title game alone would equate to 14 games. Nick would need nearly 142 yards per at 13 and just over 131 at 14. 1,835 yards.
Before last year, “RBU” Running Back University had far too often felt like “SBU” Snake Bite U, with Sony Michel coming on to so adequately replace as lead runner Nick Chubb, a then-top Heisman candidate. This takeover in 2015 was eerily reminiscent of Chubb’s prior year filling in for clear Heisman frontrunner Todd Gurley, out with an autographs’ money suspension (somewhat similar to another earlier year’s top player, wide out AJ Green). Then there was a final college career ending injury to Gurley late in the Auburn decimation before he went pro early. Remember “Gurshall”? His talent undeniable, after major injury Keith Marshall’s career never really panned out at Georgia. Coming into last season, I worried that that could be more the case for Chubb in the long run, his injury so catastrophic and graphic. I was relieved when Chubb gutted our old neighborly state basketball school UNC for 222 in the opener, although he then cooled significantly. Then after Chubb only got one gutsy carry in the Tennessee heartbreaker, I was concerned he would suffer the same type of nagging, lingering injury-filled season the great Gurley suffered through in the lost season of 2013. It’s been since 2012 that we were at full health at the position. Wow, we’ve had so much talent and won nothing major. Anyway, that year we were right there, a play from playing old Notre Dame for a national championship.
We visit those Domers on 9/9 with quite a bit less at stake this time around. They are trying to bounce back from a very subpar year, while we are trying to accelerate toward success behind our talented running backs and the most promising defense we have fielded since the one-loss SEC campaign in 2012 stalled in the Georgia Dome at the 4-yard line.
In retrospection, I finally surmise that the biggest key to USC getting enough touches for Reggie Bush and LenDale White was probably their team’s total dominance on defense; they always got them the ball back. Well, almost always.
~Han Vance is the author of four published books including “Richt Era: 15 Years in Athens” (Silver Stone Press, 2016), the founding voice of BIG HAIRY BLAWG and the host of The Bowl Show. Look for further contributions to Bulldawg Illustrated from Han Vance this football season.