The two-headed monster of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel travels to The Plains this weekend, headling an efficient Georgia offense. Either runningback has been Georgia’s leading rusher in the last three Auburn vs. Georgia games, and both have performed well in their senior seasons.
Auburn’s defense is ranked in the Top 25 against the run, so Chubb and Michel against Auburn’s Front 7 should be most important matchup on Saturday.
Auburn has held runningbacks in check for most of the season. Auburn’s rush defense allows 126 yards per game which is good for 24th nationally and has allowed only six rushing touchdowns through nine games.
Last week, Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams was the first running back to surpass the 100-yard mark against Auburn all season. The Tigers have held four opponents under 100 yards total rushing yards. Auburn has held every opponent under 200 yards rushing as Mississippi State ran for the most against Auburn with 194 in Auburn's 49-10 win.
Auburn has not yet faced a duo this season like Chubb and Michel, however it has in the recent past.
Chubb ran for 101 yards last season against Auburn in Athens, and in 2014 he ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Michel led the Bulldogs ground attack in 2015 with 77 yards.
This season, Chubb has four 100-yard games and four games with multiple touchdowns this season. Michel has added another 100-yard game and a two touchdown game.
Against Vanderbilt, Michel ran for 150 yards and Chubb added 138. Both tailbacks are in the top 40 nationally in yards per carry, while Chubb is 27th nationally with 867 rushing yards this year and Michel is 51st with 710. As a team, Georgia is No. 8 nationally in rushing yards per game with 279 and 26 rushing TDs on the season, averaging almost six yards per carry.
To add to the backfield talent, freshman D’Andre Swift led Georgia with 94-yards vs Missouri. Swift, Chubb, and Michel all finished with over 70 rushing yards in that game.
"They can keep a fresh guy in there." Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said, "When you're facing just one guy that's special, there's a chance of him wearing down, but they've got two guys and they're very talented."
At quarterback, Georgia starts true freshman Jake Fromm. The Bulldogs have a tendency to lean heavily on their two senior backs. Auburn will need to stack the box to try and negate Georgia’s rushing attack.
Ideally, Auburn would like to fill the right gaps to stop Georgia from being successful at running the ball on early downs. Deshaun Davis, Tre’ Williams and Darrell Williams, among Auburn’s other linebackers, will need to play downhill in order to meet Chubb and Michel at the line of scrimmage.
This is where the game will be decided. Auburn’s defense must force Fromm into third and longs and make him try to beat them with his arm, something that Malzahn knows will be no easy task.
"They are pretty efficient when they throw it, but I think from a coach's standpoint, no matter what it is, you've got to stop what they do best." Malzahn said, "If they threw the ball, you would have to take away the pass, but they actually run the ball very well, so, obviously, that is where it starts.
"They are efficient throwing the football, and like I said earlier, that has probably been the most impressive thing- the way that that he has protected the football. He's been money on some of those throws, specifically in the red-zone, and has been very accurate."
To make things more interesting, or irritating for Auburn fans, Chubb has an opportunity to vault Auburn legend Bo Jackson in career rushing yards on Saturday. The Cedartown, Georgia product needs only 13 yards on the ground to become to replace Jackson at the No. 4 spot in yards on the ground in SEC history.
Chubb has already passed Bulldog greats Frank Sinkwich and Todd Gurley. Kevin Steele's defense hopes that Chubb won't move into that fourth spot by much.