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Liberty Bowl Preview: Will UGA Run Over the Frogs?

The Dawgs have two exceptional running backs - will TCU be able to slow down Chubb and Michel?

Southern v Georgia Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

They have over 1600 yards and 10 touchdowns between them, despite being limited by injury, an average offensive line, and a rookie QB. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have been an outstanding pair for Georgia this season, as Chubb worked his way back from a devastating knee injury a season ago to regain the form that made him a Heisman candidate early in 2015 to average 5.5 yards per carry and score seven times. Paired with Michel (who himself averaged 4.8 yards per carry), they formed a devastating one-two punch for the Dawgs, amassing nearly as many yards on the ground together as the team did through the air.

Under Gary Patterson, TCU has been one of the better run defenses in the country over the last 16 years, but took a significant step backwards in 2016. After allowing just over 130 yards per game on the ground through their first four years in the Big 12, the Frogs surrendered 182.8 yards per contest and 4.1 per carry in 2016. When we last saw them against Kansas State at home, they were chasing Jesse Ertz and Justin Silmon all over Amon G. Carter as the duo wracked up over 300 yards combined on the ground at 8.9 and 6.0 yards per pop. That doesn’t exactly bode well for the Frogs in Memphis.

Chubb, who had over 1500 yards in 2014, as he won SEC Freshman of the Year honors in his first season on campus, is a shiftier back than the man he replaced, the LA Rams Todd Gurley. With quick feet, great anticipation at the point of attack, and great patience behind the line, he is a balanced and explosive running back that can run by you, but isn’t afraid to initiate contact either. He will be the workhorse Friday morning, as he has been most of the season, with Michel getting his fair share of the load as well. Georgia wants to establish the run early and often, and take advantage of a run defense that has been one of the worst statistically of the Patterson era at TCU. With a defensive line that has piled up the sacks, getting the ball out of Eason’s hands quickly or making sure play-action is effective will be key.

In Patterson’s 4-2-5, which is built to be strongest at the point of attack while relying on one on one coverage on the outside, the two linebackers are the straw that stirs the drinks. Against a run-first team with a pocket quarterback, the two men in the middle - Ty Summers and Travin Howard - should be let loose to wreak havoc. The two, a former high school QB and converted safety respectively, led the team in tackles, each amassing triple digits and combining for 238 in total. Summers is the bigger of the two, and the better against the run. With both Chubb and Michel being bigger guys, he could be called upon to attack the gaps on the snap while Howard - the better coverage guy of the two - waits to read the play.

Another point of interest is the Bulldog offensive line. It has been less than superb this season, as a young and inexperienced group took quite a while to jell in front of their rookie quarterback and veteran runners. With the TCU defensive line being so adept at applying pressure in the backfield, they may be more in protection mode than attack mode themselves, which could mean smaller holes that close quicker than the running backs would like. Consistent pressure on Eason would also, in effect, limit the running game when the play call is a hand-off. It will be interesting to see if they employ a lot of pre-snap movement and how much freedom they give Eason at the line to check in and out of plays as a way to slow down the dangerous defensive line and blitz packages of the Frogs. I would also anticipate we will see a lot more of Michel and Chubb staying in to block - neither are great receiving threats, combining for only 25 receptions and less than 200 yards total through the air anyway. Whether they go to more jet sweeps and options looks will also be something to watch - having two plus talents in the backfield means you can split one or both out without losing the real threat of a run play, keeping the defense off balance.

If you want a better look at what the guys are up against - and you have fifteen minutes to kill - here is a good highlight package of the two. What you’ll see is a lot of power, great feet, and the ability to quick cut - all part of what makes them such a special and dangerous pair.

If the TCU defense, especially the front six, is up to the challenge, and can at least contain the talented Michel and Chubb, it will make it hard for the Georgia offense to consistently move the ball, especially in the red zone. But, if they get going early, it will be a long day for a Frog offense that will be drawn into a shootout style that they might not be ready to play.