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Nick Chubb embracing 'big role' in offense for No. 9 Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia running back Nick Chubb (27) pushes past Arkansas defenders linebacker Martrell Spaight (47), safety Rohan Gaines, bottom left, and defensive end JaMichael Winston, top left, in the first quarter of a game last season in Little Rock, Ark. - photo by Danny Johnston

Georgia vs. Louisiana-Monroe

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens

On TV: SEC Network

ATHENS — One year ago, Nick Chubb didn’t know if he’d get a carry in Georgia’s opening game.

Chubb smiled this week when thinking about how times have changed.

Having shed his backup role early last season, Chubb is set to open his first full season as No. 9 Georgia’s starting tailback and biggest star when the Bulldogs play Louisiana Monroe on Saturday.

Chubb is more than just another starter. The tailback is a big key to the Bulldogs’ hopes for a Southeastern Conference championship, and he says he’s ready to accept that responsibility.

“It’s a lot different,” Chubb said Tuesday. “Last year I didn’t know if I was going to get to touch the ball. Now I’m going in here knowing that I’m going to play and knowing I’m going to have a big role on this team. It’s a lot different than last year.”

The pressure is on Chubb because he proved last season he could keep the Georgia running game moving when Gurley served a four-game suspension and then suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Chubb flourished, running for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns. He closed the season with eight straight 100-yard games, including a career-high 266 yards in the Belk Bowl win over Louisville.

The big numbers make Chubb one of the names mentioned often in preseason Heisman Trophy conversations. Center Brandon Kublanow says the spotlight hasn’t changed Chubb.

“Nick always gets better,” Kublanow said. “He’s an incredible kid. He’s very humble, works very hard. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve seen. I think he can only get better.”

Georgia’s quarterback competition, won by Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert, was the big story of preseason practice. But ULM coach Todd Berry wasn’t distracted. He knows Chubb must be the focus for his defense.

“They’ve got an outstanding run game,” Berry said this week. “Nobody has stopped them. I don’t expect to. The thing you have to do is try to slow them down, because everybody struggles with their fantastic running back, Nick Chubb.”

Berry said Chubb (5-10, 220) has “great vision” and the ability to keep running after taking a hit.

“It’s really hard to knock this guy off his feet because he has exceptional balance,” Berry said.

Chubb had 30 or more carries in three games, including the win over Louisville. There is an expectation he will have more help this season from Sony Michel, Keith Marshall and others. Michel and Marshall joined Gurley as tailbacks slowed by injuries last season, putting a heavy burden on Chubb.

Michel opens the season as Chubb’s top backup. Marshall earned compliments for rediscovering his explosiveness. A.J. Turman, Brendan Douglas and even fullback Quayvon Hicks also can work at tailback.

“I would say Sony is a very solid No. 2,” coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. “Nick obviously is the starter, but we will see a good bit of Sony in there, no doubt. I would not be shocked to see Keith and Brendan in there as well.”

Chubb said he was glad Richt named a starter at the beginning of the practice week because “I like for things to be settled down and know who is going to play so you can plan on that.”

Chubb joked earlier this summer that he wasn’t concerned because all of the quarterbacks were good at handoffs to him. The tailback should be well-rested as coaches have kept a close eye on his carries during practice.

“I feel fresh,” Chubb said. “No matter how many carries I get or anything, I’m going to feel fresh.”

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