Georgia faces Vanderbilt looking very much like Tailback U
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Georgia is doing nothing to diminish its reputation as Tailback U.
Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Brian Herrien are carrying the load for the Bulldogs while freshman quarterback Jacob Eason goes through some growing pains.
Heading into Saturday's Southeastern Conference game against Vanderbilt, Chubb and Michel are coming off 100-yard performances and Herrien, a freshman, nearly gave the Bulldogs (4-2, 2-2 SEC) three triple-digit rushers in last weekend's grind-it-out victory over South Carolina .
Of course, they are only the latest in a long line of storied running backs to wear the red and black, from Hershel Walker and Garrison Hearst to Terrell Davis and Todd Gurley.
''It's great to just be a part of that fraternity,'' Michel said.
The Bulldogs sure needed their running game against the Gamecocks. Eason, who has shown flashes of his enormous potential but still faces a steep learning curve, completed only 5 of 17 for 29 yards - Georgia's fewest passing yards since 1990 .
It didn't matter. Michel rushed for 133 yards, Chubb churned out 121 and Herrien finished with 82, leading Georgia to a 28-14 triumph.
Rookie coach Kirby Smart said it's comforting to have two experienced runners like Chubb and Michel, especially while breaking in a young quarterback.
''They kind of motivate the rest of the team by the way they run the ball,'' Smart said. ''When you see a guy run through an arm tackle, you see a guy with really good toughness, I think it inspires the offensive line to block harder. It inspires the receivers to block harder. The guys sitting over there on defense, resting, they play with more energy and passion.''
Vanderbilt (2-4, 0-3) is in the midst of another forgettable season, having lost each of its SEC games by a touchdown or less. Making the challenge more daunting, the Commodores have yet to win a conference game away from home in Derek Mason's 2+ seasons as coach.
''Our football team obviously has had a rough go of it lately,'' Mason said. ''These guys have played hard, but we're a play or two away from winning. That's always a tough thing when you're a football team and you keep looking at maybe a difference here, a difference there.''
Here are some other things to watch for Saturday at Sanford Stadium:
LEARNING CURVE: Smart has given no indication he's considering a quarterback change, despite Eason's most recent outing and having fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert in reserve. The coach did stress that Eason can't take his starting position for granted. ''Jacob understands that and respects that, that day-to-day you've got to go out and earn your position,'' Smart said.
THANK GOODNESS FOR WEBB: Vanderbilt's best offensive threat is junior Ralph Webb, who is second in the SEC with 682 yards rushing and leads the league with 795 all-purpose yards. He has two straight 100-yard games, about the only saving grace for an offense that ranks 126th out of 128 FBS teams in total yards, ahead of only Buffalo and Rutgers, and is averaging just 4.47 yards per play.
KICKING WOES: The kicking game has traditionally been a strong point at Georgia. Not this year. The Bulldogs are on their second kicker, Rodrigo Blankenship, and have yet to make a field goal longer than 29 yards. Punter Marshall Long has also been shaky, averaging 39.5 yards.
LEDBETTER RETURNS: Georgia's defensive line gets a boost with the return of Jonathan Ledbetter, who served a six-game suspension after two alcohol-related arrests during the offseason. He gives the Bulldogs a player who can work both inside and outside within the 3-4 scheme. ''He does a lot of things,'' Smart said. ''It gives us some more flexibility there.''
TOP TACKLER: Vanderbilt is anchored by the SEC's leading tackler, linebacker Zach Cunningham. The junior has a league-high 62 tackles and 10 + for loss. He has had at least 10 tackles in four of the first six games.
AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tennessee contributed to this report.
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