Injuries and a suspension have robbed Georgia of the depth in its offensive backfield. But star power? There’s no denying that continues to be part of the equation.
Freshman Nick Chubb ripped off a 43-yard touchdown run in racking up 211 yards — including 168 after contact — and two scores as the 10th-ranked Bulldogs dumped Arkansas 45-32 Saturday in Little Rock.
It was a commanding performance against an Arkansas team that still hasn’t won an SEC game since Oct. 13, 2012, but has looked close to ending that skid.
The Razorbacks lost to No. 7 Alabama by just one point last weekend and fell to then-No. 6 Texas A&M in overtime on Sept. 27. But Georgia left little doubt in this one and dealt the SEC West its first loss of the year to outsiders, against whom it was 26-0 coming into Week 8.
Arkansas’ gameplan of controlling the clock and the ball was in full effect on its opening drive as it went 75 yards on 13 plays in 7:51, capped by an Alex Collins 1-yard TD run.
The Bulldogs responded with 38 straight points, kicking off that run with quarterback Hutson Mason throwing on eight of UGA’s first 17 plays and then including a healthy dose of Chubb.
With its best player Todd Gurley suspended indefinitely while the school investigates whether he broke NCAA rules, and Keith Marshall and Sony Michel shelved with injuries, Georgia has only sophomore Brandon Douglas (21 carries coming into Saturday) and former defensive back J.J. Green behind Chubb.
Arkansas’ rush defense has been playing better than its No. 39 ranking (127.2 yards per game), limiting the Crimson Tide to just 66 yards and 2.1 a carry. The Razorbacks kept Alabama from getting either a first down or touchdown on nine of its 13 drives.
The 5-foot-10, 213-pound Chubb has proven every bit the workhorse. He touched the ball 42 times in last week’s rout of Missouri (including 38 carries) and had 13 in the first half (with 12 rushes) vs. the Razorbacks before getting 21 more after the break.
Given the uncertainty surrounding Gurley’s status — the NCAA tweeted Thursday that it was working with Georgia and is awaiting the school’s request for the junior to be reinstated — the response was overwhelming, and not just from Chubb in his starring role.
The Bulldogs’ defense held the SEC’s best running game, which had a 278.7 average, to 126 yards, 58 of which came on its first possession, and forced four turnovers, including a fumble Damian Swann returned 54 yards for a touchdown.
While the West continues to get most of the attention — and for good reason with four of the top seven teams in the latest AP poll, including No. 1 Mississippi State — its the Bulldogs of the Athens persuasion that may have the conference’s easiest path to a potential College Football Playoff beth.
Just look at the a number of land mines that await the West’s top teams.
• No. 1 Mississippi State: at Kentucky, vs. Arkansas, at No. 7 Alabama, at No. 3 Ole Miss
• No. 3 Ole Miss: at LSU, No. 6 Auburn, at Arkansas, vs. No. 1 Mississippi State
• No. 6 Auburn: No. 3 Ole Miss, No. 21 Texas A&M, No. 10 Georgia, at No. 7 Alabama
And add on top of that the SEC Championship Game for the team ends up representing the West.
Meanwhile, Georgia does have to go to Kentucky on Nov. 8 and hosts Auburn a week later, but the rest of its opponents include Florida (2-2 in the SEC), Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech.
Given how dicey it looks for the Big 12 to get into the playoff after No. 4 Baylor’s loss to West Virginia, and that No. 9 Oregon may not get much help from its remaining Pac-12 schedule, Georgia can continue to position itself as one of the best one-loss options to make the final four.
And should Gurley return?
The Bulldogs would have have its unquestioned best weapon back and a rising star in Chubb who has orchestrated back-to-back wins on the road and possibly more if Gurley is reinstated later on in the schedule.
That should put more than a scare into the vaunted West.