A total of eight true freshmen saw their first action between the hedges, and all of them made their presence felt. Dominick Sanders started at the Star position and played the entire game. Jeb Blazevich, a tight end, grabbed the first catch of his career and made a huge block to spring Todd Gurley for his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Isaiah McKenzie showed why he is nicknamed “Joystick” with his elusiveness on offense and a 24-yard punt return.
However, the performances turned in by Sony Michel and Nick Chubb made the biggest difference on the outcome of the game. The two highly-rated running backs from the class of 2013 had their numbers called early and often, which surprised many Dawg fans at first. However, as the game progressed, it became clear why Mike Bobo and Mark Richt decided to limit Gurley’s carries in the first half.
Gurley was able to churn out 198 yards on 15 carries and score four touchdowns in part because Michel and Chubb combined for 103 yards on 10 carries and one touchdown. After staying banged up for most of 2013, Gurley’s health is clearly of utmost importance to the Dawgs’ championship hopes. The emergence of these two talents will help conserve Gurley’s energy for dominant fourth-quarter runs that leave tired defenses gasping, as seen on Saturday.
While Clemson’s defenders were struggling, Gurley appeared to get stronger as the game went on.
Both freshmen ran very effectively and kept Clemson off balance. Michel showed his speed and resilience, picking up a big third-down conversion running off tackle after botching an assignment on the play before. Chubb incited two small riots on the Georgia sideline with two runs that will be shown on highlight reels all week. His 47-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, breaking at least three tackles, showed how using a stable of running backs can wear a defense down.
Gurley is the co-SEC Offensive Player of the Week and a bona fide Heisman candidate. If his season continues this way, he may have two young Dawgs to thank for keeping him healthy and able to wear opposing defenses down on the way to the end zone and the record books.
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