A couple of weeks ago, Georgia coach Mark Richt was asked how a team responds when a prominent player goes down with a major injury. Being that he's seen a number of high-profile players go down during his time at Georgia, Richt eloquently talked about the process of moving on and keeping focus.
But Richt didn't dance around the issue of losing a true star.
"Every once in a while there's a player that's just been so productive for so long, and if something were to happen to him it does probably shake everybody up a little bit -- even the coaches," Richt said.
Well, welcome back to the misery that has been Georgia's bad luck with star players and devastating injuries.
With one unfortunate hop to the outside, the Bulldogs lost Heisman Trophy candidate running back Nick Chubb to a season-ending knee injury during Saturday's 38-31 loss to Tennessee. He'll undergo surgery within two weeks.
Georgia not only lost one of the nation's best players but also a great leader and person in Chubb, leaving the immediate future of this offense in limbo. One doesn't simply replace someone who rushed for 100 yards in 13 straight games and averaged more than 8 yards per carry through the first five games of the season. It'll be equally hard to replace the leadership of a guy who considers it a vacation to head home to train with his high school coaches.
Chubb is the heart and soul of this Georgia team, and we really don't know what to expect now. Fellow sophomore running back Sony Michel played the role of bell-cow back well against Tennessee, rushing for 145 yards on 22 carries, but how long can he sustain it? While Michel has shown flashes of being a gritty, between-the-tackles runner before, he dealt with nagging injuries last season and this spring. Is the sample size big enough for us to expect that kind of performance every week?
Also, consider his opponent. Tennessee is giving up 4.6 yards per carry and 170.5 rushing yards per game and has had one of the SEC's most inconsistent front sevens this season. Michel is dangerous as a runner and receiver, but we'll find out whether he's ready for the brunt of the carries and the beatings over the next few weeks, as the Bulldogs take on Missouri and Florida. Both rank in the top six of the SEC in rushing defense and neither is allowing more than 3.1 yards per carry or 115 rushing yards per game.
Fortunately, Michel has the luxury of being able to work with veteran Keith Marshall, who is knocking a ton of rust off after two injury-plagued seasons. He only ran for 24 yards against the Vols, but the hope is that his increased workload will help him get closer to playing like the back who totaled 759 rushing yards as a freshman.
Quarterback Greyson Lambert hasn't given Georgia fans much to smile about over the last two weeks, but he did throw for 279 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee. Don't forget that if Reggie Davis hadn't dropped that perfectly thrown 44-yard pass at the goal line late in the fourth, Georgia would have tied the score. It's also worth noting that Georgia amassed 442 yards Saturday without Chubb.
The issue, however, is that you just don't know what Lambert you'll see. Is he the quarterback who threw two incompletions in the two games before Alabama or the one who threw 31 and an interception in the last two? His play has greatly affected this offense one way or the other.
Malcolm Mitchell appears to be back to his old self, but he needs help. This is an unproven receiving corps that was already missing home run threat Justin Scott-Wesley. Outside of his painful drop, Davis did have 105 yards against Tennessee, but he had just eight catches going into Saturday. Maybe Georgia will try to get Terry Godwin more involved in the backfield, and getting all-purpose star Isaiah McKenzie back from his hamstring injury is important, too. Godwin and McKenzie have combined for just 18 offensive touches this season.
It's unfair to say that all is lost, but it's also unfair to say the Dawgs' offense will manage without Chubb. There are too many unknowns, and the next two games are essentially the season for the Bulldogs. Missouri and Florida both rank in the top 16 nationally in total and scoring defense and will have zero sympathy for the Dawgs. To beat these teams, you have to soften up their brilliant front sevens, and not having Chubb limits that for Georgia.
A disappointing season for the SEC East favorites just got a lot tougher, as the Bulldogs drift into the unknown with their offense.