This was the idea.

When Georgia running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel announced last December their intentions to come back for their senior seasons, it was with the desire to elevate the Bulldogs to a place they haven’t been in recent years. Georgia has ended the past three seasons in the Belk, TaxSlayer and Liberty bowls, but this year’s Bulldogs seem headed for a much loftier destination with their 6-0 record and No. 4 ranking heading into Saturday night’s date with Missouri in Sanford Stadium.

Chubb and Michel are certainly doing their share, having already combined for 1,024 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.

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“It’s been fun,” Chubb said with a smile after last Saturday’s 45-14 victory at Vanderbilt. “We both came in together, and we’re both leaving together. We’ve been here for a while, and it’s fun when we’re both out there making big plays.”

Against the Commodores, the 5-foot-10, 225-pound Chubb rushed five times for 69 yards on the opening possession, capping it with a 33-yard touchdown. He finished with 16 carries for 138 yards and two scores, and he became just the eighth player in Southeastern Conference history to amass 4,000 yards in his career.

Michel (5-11, 222) came off the bench and carried 12 times for 150 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown, for an offense that rushed for 423 yards. He needs just 183 yards to reach 3,000 for his career, which would make Georgia the first Southeastern Conference program with a career 4,000- and 3,000-yard rusher on the same roster.

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Chubb leads the league with 618 yards and has averaged 6.8 yards per carry this season, while Michel ranks 11th with 406 yards and has averaged 6.9 yards a rush.

“I’m happy for them because they’re the leaders of the team,” second-year Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. “They’re the leaders of the offense, for sure. Those guys give sweat and blood for this university. They play on special teams. They do everything right.”

Yet not everything has gone right for this tandem since arriving in 2014.

Chubb encountered instant stardom with a 47-yard touchdown in his first game as a freshman against Clemson, and by the midway mark of his sophomore year he matched Herschel Walker’s school record of 13 consecutive 100-yard games. He never had a chance to break that standard, however, tearing multiple knee ligaments on the first play from scrimmage during a 2015 trip to Tennessee.

Michel stepped in and rushed for 1,161 yards two years ago, but the start of his junior season was derailed by an open fracture of his forearm while riding on an ATV.

It would have been understandable, given those setbacks, had both decided to take their respective talents to the NFL this year. They did not, however, feel that their jobs at Georgia were finished, so they came back along with outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter.

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“Our ultimate goal is to win football games,” Michel said. “It’s a lot of fun when we get the victories, because it has been a four-year grind for us during the games and during the practices. It has felt different this year, and I think it’s in how we’ve prepared, which has been essential to our success.”

Chubb was trailing only former LSU tailback Leonard Fournette in several Heisman Trophy surveys two years ago before his injury in Knoxville, but he has not emerged in similar conversation this time around. He and Michel not only are sharing the success but have been able to rest down the stretch in five games due to Georgia’s sizable leads.

Georgia’s third-string running back, freshman D’Andre Swift, has rushed 36 times for 264 yards and a 7.3-yard average.

“Sony is the guy that nobody talks about, and he’s had some of the best runs we’ve had all year,” Smart said. “He was really productive the other day. I think those guys obviously take away from each other when it comes to national recognition because they do not get the carries, but they do not care about that.

“The reason they came back was to win, and that is the ultimate goal. Right now they are helping us achieve that.”

Smart was very appreciative last December when Chubb and Michel informed him that they would be returning. He is even more appreciative now, and if the Bulldogs continue on the path they’ve plowed the first half of the season, there might be no limits on his adulation.

It’s already sounding that way.

“We can never repay them for what they’ve done for this university,” Smart said. “The fact they came back and have given so much — they did it not for themselves, they did it for everybody else on the team, and that’s lost in college football a lot of times.”

This article is written by David Paschall from Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.



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