CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On the podium at midfield after Georgia’s 37-14 win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl, the emcee tried to coax a few words from the game’s MVP. Nick Chubb offered what, for him, amounted to a long exposition on the significance of his Tuesday night performance.
“Go Dawgs,” he said, then did his best to disappear back into the crowd.
It was an appropriate season-ending dissertation for the soft-spoken freshman. He doesn’t need to say much. His play speaks volumes.
“I still haven’t heard him say a word the whole year,” said Georgia assistant coach John Lilly, who filled in for the departed Mike Bobo as the Bulldogs’ offensive playcaller. “I’ve seen nothing but a guy who shows up every day, prepares, and is just ready to go.”
The rest of Georgia’s offense was in chaos Tuesday. Bobo had left to take the head coaching job at Colorado State, leaving Lilly to call plays for the first time in his life. Senior quarterback Hutson Mason was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a concussion. Receiver Michael Bennett suffered a knee injury that ended his day early, too. And so the burden, once again, was placed into the hands of Chubb, and he delivered with a historic performance, racking up 266 yards -- the second most in Georgia history -- and two touchdowns.
Chubb has been ready to carry the load since the day he set foot on campus, but he couldn’t have envisioned this. When the season began, the Bulldogs’ backfield was bursting with talent, a depth chart with four stars, headlined by Heisman favorite Todd Gurley. Chubb’s introduction to the offense was still memorable though -- a 47-yard dash with one shoe in the opener against Clemson.
Gurley was tremendous through the early season, but when he was suspended before Georgia’s Oct. 11 date with Missouri, the torch was passed to the true freshman. Chubb delivered by carrying the ball 38 times for 143 yards.
When it was over, Lilly wondered if Chubb would return to practice the following week looking battered and worn down. Instead, Chubb looked better than ever.
In the eight games since Gurley was suspended, Chubb topped 100 yards every time. Only Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, has rushed for more yards since Week 7.
“You’re looking at one of the best backs in the country, and he’s only a true freshman,” Mason said.
Against Louisville, Chubb darted 20 yards on Georgia’s first play from scrimmage, then added runs of 31, 82 and 30 before it was over. After Mason went down with four minutes left in the first half, Chubb ran 20 times for 185 yards to secure the win -- and many of those carries came in less-than-ideal situations.
“A lot of times in that second half, we weren’t getting him in the right play, either,” Mason said. “We were running plays into blitzes, and he was still breaking tackles. He’s unbelievable to watch.”
Georgia ran an up-tempo offense throughout, which had Louisville perplexed and its coaches scrambling at times. But it was Chubb’s punishing runs that really made the difference as he demoralized a Cardinals defense that hadn’t surrendered that many rushing yards in a game in more than six years.
When it was over, the 37 points and 292 rushing yards provided a nice perk for Georgia’s offense, which was eager to offer some retribution to former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who now leads Louisville's defense. Mason said Grantham used to call Georgia’s offense “Mickey Mouse,” and the team relished the chance to see him squirm.
But as Georgia winds down its 2014 season, there’s ample room for frustration, too. Bobo’s departure leaves a major question mark for the offense, and Mason’s early departure Tuesday officially ended his career in Athens. The Bulldogs were arguably the most talented team in the SEC East in each of the past two seasons, but neither resulted in a division title. This year, they fell to rivals Florida and Georgia Tech in ugly fashion. Even after Tuesday’s bowl win, Richt was forced to address rumors that he was planning to resign -- stating adamantly that he’d be back for 2015.
But for all the dangling threads of discord following this season, there’s one overwhelming reason for Georgia to be optimistic looking forward, and that’s Chubb.
“It’s just like when we got Gurley,” cornerback Damian Swann said. “It’s the same excitement. That kid is powerful. That kid has great balance. That kid is good at football. He’s going to break a lot of records.”