UGA, Nick Chubb and the Spread

Jonathan Branch breaks down down UGA's slight shift to a spread, and what that means for Nick Chubb

Georgia fell on its face in a 45-14 thrashing by Ole Miss last week, sending Georgia fans into a bit of a panic. The season, however, is far from over for the Bulldogs with a matchup against Tennessee in Athens looming this weekend. Another reason Georgia fans are concerned is star tailback Nick Chubb suffered an ankle injury against the Rebs and his status for a potential rematch with the Vols, against whom he suffered that gruesome knee injury last season, is on hold.

Chubb is a dynamic downhill tailback; no one can deny that. However, Georgia recently has shown a desire to open up its offense into a spread attack, and while Chubb is a special talent at running back, he’s best suited in an I-formation/power attack. On the other hand, backs like Sony Michel and Brian Herrien are well-suited for the spread attack.

That’s why—and don’t think I’m suggesting a Chubb injury is good for Georgia; it’s the last thing anyone wants to see)—Georgia can survive and potentially improve as an offensive team with Chubb on the sideline.

Much of Georgia’s offensive issues thus far have stemmed from three things: poor offensive line play in spots, wide receivers not doing what they’re on scholarship to do (see: catch the football) and a talented young quarterback growing up the hard way. Their success in game one came largely from their safety net named Nick Chubb churning out big yards against the porous unit Gene Chizik calls a defense.

Opening up the offense to more gun and pistol formations could help mask two of those issues. First, the smaller (by Sam Pittman’s standards) offensive line has more opportunities to block in space while allowing shiftier backs to use vision to find gaps in the defense. Secondly, Jacob Eason is certainly more comfortable out from under center since he played every snap in high school from the gun.

Let’s take a look at Georgia’s formation usage before and after Chubb’s injury last week.

Take that with a little salt since Georgia was playing from behind, but Georgia continued to run from spread formations despite trailing.

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In fact, Herrien didn’t get his first carry until after Chubb’s injury, and the freshman finished the game as Georgia’s leading rusher with 8 carries for 66 yards. Three of those carries came when Eason was under center and amounted to 12 yards and a score. Herrien’s remaining 54 yards and a touchdown came on five runs out of the shotgun.

Michel ran 5 times for 25 yards before Chubbs’ injury. After No. 27 left the game, Michel ran six times for 41 yards, all out of the shotgun and pistol formations.

By comparison, Chubb had 12 carries on the day—6 from the gun/pistol and 6 from the I or Ace formation. His total from the I/Ace? 44 yards. From the gun? 13 yards.

Georgia’s best opportunity to win right now is obviously with Eason and Chubb. But they’re not necessarily perfect puzzle pieces right now. One of those pieces may very well be absent on Saturday, so Georgia must adapt by putting its eggs in the Eason basket. That likely will require Georgia to operate its offense from the gun and let the array of shifty skill players go to work.

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