Sports Journalism Blog

By Sarah Bahr | @smbahr14

Sports Capital Journalism Program

LOS ANGELES — In Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s dreams, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield’s cream pants are spotless as a clergyman’s cassock. His helmet gleams in the Southern California sunshine. His cleats? Marshmallow-white.

In Chaney’s fantasy, Oklahoma’s one-man offensive juggernaut never sees the field, throwing for as many touchdowns as the Sooner Schooner while Georgia’s touchdown-tallying tailback tandem runs the table on the helpless Oklahoma defense in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual.

That might not be so far from reality.

Senior tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who rank second and third in all-time rushing yards in Georgia history, respectively, have combined for 2,223 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns so far this season. To put that into perspective, Georgia’s second-leading rusher has nearly as many yards as Oklahoma’s leading rusher, Rodney Anderson (Anderson has 960; Michel has 948).

Chaney recognizes the gift he’s been blessed with.

“We’ve got so many running backs they don’t even sweat out there in practice half the time,” he said. “They’re fantastic.”

But Georgia’s dynamic duo isn’t tearing at one another’s throats. The roommates are more likely to share a Splash Mountain log than a gritted-teeth glare. They rib each other on and off the field, more chummy than cutthroat. Their mothers sit together at games.

“They’re best friends,” Chaney said. “They have a great amount of love for each other. Anytime the other one’s not doing quite well, they’re quick to get on him.”

But Michel clarifies the banter isn’t barbed.

“It’s just the competitive nature in us that keeps us pushing each other,” he said. “If I see something on the football field that [Chubb] does that’s out of character, even in practice, I tell him. And he does the same for me.”

If Georgia is to take home its first Rose Bowl victory in 75 years, it’ll be up to Chubb and Michel to take advantage of the possessions defensive standouts like Butkus Award-winning tackle-and-sack specialist Roquan Smith give them. If the duo can eat up clock with chunk-yardage runs, the Bulldogs may limit Mayfield’s chances to run off a dominating drive.

For Chaney, a frustrated Mayfield is a linchpin of the Georgia game plan. While the Bulldogs’ quarterback-pancaking, run-stuffing defense — ranked No. 4 nationally — makes headlines, it’s the offense that may decide the team’s fate.

In Oklahoma’s only loss of the season, a 38-31 defeat at the hands of backup-quarterback-led Iowa State, four consecutive scoring drives enabled the Iowa State offense to tally 449 yards as the Cyclones racked up chunk yardage against Oklahoma’s doleful defense.

If Georgia can execute a similar game plan, scrapping for first downs on the ground while keeping Mayfield banished to the bench, the Bulldogs might just hand the Heisman-winning quarterback his first true road loss during his three-year tenure at Oklahoma.

Chaney is convinced the Bulldogs have more than a fighting chance.

“I don’t believe [we’ve played our best football yet],” he said. “I think we can continue to get better, and I believe we will.”

If Chubb and Michel have anything to say about it, the first Southeastern Conference program to carry career 4,000- and 3,000-yard rushers on the same roster will send off its senior running backs with a trip to Atlanta and a chance to play for a national championship.

Judging by the bar the Chubb and Michel have set for the team, that goal may not be so far out of reach. Thanks to the duo’s leadership, Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm is confident — and ready to win the Rose Bowl.

“Sony and Nick. . .those guys really keep my head straight,” Fromm said. “They’ve been really good to me and helped keep me kind of level-headed.”

The duo’s carry-sharing this season may not have led to any Heisman nominations, but it’s put Georgia on the brink of its first national championship in nearly 40 years.

Chaney just shakes his head, then smiles, as he ponders the success of Georgia’s running-back-by-committee approach.

How’d he end up with Batman and Robin instead of two sharks clawing for a starting job?

“I tell you, I just sit here and I think for the last couple years having them with us has been a blessing,” Chaney said.