CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Damian Swann wasn’t sugarcoating when asked about Georgia’s three losses this season. The senior defensive back felt the Bulldogs missed a real opportunity to not only win the SEC East, but to do more this season. Simply put, he didn’t think they should be playing Louisville in the Belk Bowl.
“It seems like we always find a way to lose a game we’re not supposed to lose,” Swann said on Monday. “If we don’t lose those games, we’re undefeated going into playing [Georgia] Tech hopefully punching our ticket to Atlanta. You know how it goes, man. You’ve got to be the best team on that Saturday. Three of those Saturdays we weren’t the best team.”
There’s still the general sense of “what could have been?” among some of the Georgia players, and it would’ve been understandable if the Bulldogs came out flat in Charlotte and rolled over against the Cardinals. But even with the departure of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to Colorado State, the Dawgs executed behind freshman sensation Nick Chubb in a dominant 37-14 win, their 10th of the season.
Georgia went up quickly with a 45-yard strike from Hutson Mason to Chris Conley six-and-a-half minutes into the game. Freshman running back Sony Michel set up the next scoring drive after taking a screen pass 32 yards into Louisville territory. A few players later, Chubb went Beast Mode, barging through a couple of tacklers for a 31-yard touchdown run to put the Dawgs up 17-7.
It’s the same type of running that Chubb demonstrated all season, and it’s the type of running that took a little sting out of Todd Gurley’s four-game suspension and torn ACL.
“Nick had to do what he had to do and proved he could stand the rigors of it physically from just the pounding aspect and the conditioning aspect,” Georgia Coach Mark Richt said after the game. “He proved he could do something like he did tonight going into this game. It wasn’t a mystery to us that he'd be able to do something like this.”
The freshman from Cedartown, Ga. took another carry 82 yards with Georgia inside its five midway through the third quarter, showing some speed and putting him over 100 yards for the eighth straight game. Michel scored from two yards out to give the Bulldogs a 27-7 lead not long after.
Chubb got his second touchdown with two minutes remaining to cap off his already incredible game.
Ask any Georgia player about Chubb, and the superlatives start flowing.
“When we first found out about Todd being suspended,” Swann said, “I went up to him and told him before we went to practice, ‘We don’t need you to be Todd. We don’t need you to be a hero. Whatever you do, you just run that ball the best you can. That’s all we can ask for.’ He came out and turned into a monster. Whichever offensive coordinator he gets, I’m sure that guy's going to be happy he got him because he’s going to run that ball.”
Chubb finished the season with 1,550 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year after his 267-yard, two touchdown performance against the Cardinals. He has the same type of bulldozing ability that Gurley showed in his time with the Bulldogs and is built like he was born to carry the ball 25 times per game.
Mason referenced those few games when Gurley, Chubb and Michel were on the field together like some sort of magical dreamland.
“It was really special to sit back there and watch when we had Todd, Chubb and Sony,” Mason, who exited the game and didn’t return due to concussion-like symptoms, said. “I remember as a young guy growing up, the only thing in my time watching college football I can remember that was kind of that special was Cadillac [Williams] and Ronnie Brown at Auburn. I don't think people will really cherish and realize how special it was having two All-Americans and one guy that may be an All-American in the future. People that paid to watch them this year got their pennies worth.”
None of that makes the fact that Georgia missed out on capturing an easily winnable side of the conference any easier to stomach. The Bulldogs stomped eventual division champion Missouri, 34-0, in Columbia and (even including the South Carolina loss) had an outside shot to play their way into the top four if they could beat the teams they were supposed to beat.
Then came the 38-20 loss to Florida on Nov. 1, in Jacksonville, where it looked like the Gators ran the same play over and over and dared Georgia to stop them.
After an overtime loss to Georgia Tech the last week of the season, Georgia found itself in a familiar place: playing in a bowl that didn’t match up with the team’s expectations coming into the fall.
“We’ve got to find those things that’s going to make us be a consistent team every week,” Swann said. “We have to do things the right way every week. Don’t get me wrong. Everything about this program has changed. The way we work out. The way we practice. The way we train. The way we eat. Everything is moving in the right direction.”
The future is bright for Georgia football. Richt has brought an influx of talent, and a lot of those freshmen – including Chubb, Michel and defensive back Dominick Sanders (who had two picks against the Cardinals) – got valuable experience over the course of the year.
Swann, who had an interception in his final game in a Georgia uniform, believes “within the next two to three years [the Bulldogs] are going to be competing for a national championship.”
If that’s going to happen, Chubb and Georgia’s other young talent will be a big part of the reason why.