ATLANTA — A running back has exceeded 1,000 rushing yards in a season 18 times in the storied football history of the Georgia Bulldogs. The first 16 occasions were isolated. But this season, for the first time, the running game led by a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, brought Georgia to the College Football Playoff championship game on Monday night against Alabama.
Chubb leads Georgia with 1,320 yards this season. Michel has 1,129, including 181 in last Monday’s 54-48 Rose Bowl victory over Oklahoma. He ran 27 yards for the winning touchdown in the second overtime, his fourth TD of the day.
Their long runs helped erase a 17-point first-half deficit, the largest comeback in the history of the Rose Bowl.
The duo totaled 326 rushing yards in the Rose Bowl to set a Football Bowl Subdivision career record of 8,259 yards, surpassing the record of 8,192 set by Eric Dickerson and Craig James at Southern Methodist University.
The career totals of 4,744 yards for Chubb and 3,540 yards for Michel rank second and third in Georgia history behind the 5,259 yards of Herschel Walker, who led the Bulldogs to the 1980 national championship.
They have become such good friends, according to Chubb, that they have roomed together for the past two years.
“We’ve been through so much together, coming in as freshmen . . . going through all the change together,” Chubb said. “We’re very close.”
Michel said his friendship with Chubb has been helpful on and off the field.
“It’s been a pretty cool relationship,” Michel said. “It’s been a journey. All four years we’ve been in college, we’ve had ups and downs. Being in practice, we just encourage each other to work on our craft.”
Their relationship was on display when the Bulldogs faced a crisis during the fourth quarter in the Rose Bowl. Michel, who had lost only four fumbles in his career entering the game, committed one that was returned for a 46-yard touchdown by Oklahoma’s Steven Parker for a 45-38 Sooners lead with 6:52 to play.
As Michel sat on the Georgia bench, Chubb came over and sat next to him without saying a word.
“I just wanted to be there for him and let him know I’m here,” Chubb said.
While the two elite running backs have grown close off the field, they’ve terrorized opponents on it.
“They love one another and they’re great friends, and they trust what we’re trying to get done,” Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “They’re each other’s best supporters and they care about each other a lot.”
Chaney pointed out the importance of keeping both players fresh by sharing the workload. True freshman D’Andre Swift also has played an important role in the offense.
Swift said he wasn’t expecting Chubb and Michel to return for a senior season when he initially committed to Georgia, but when they decided to come back, he was happy with the situation.
“To learn behind them is great,” Swift said. “I consider them my big brothers . . . It’s a real genuine bond that we have.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has been coaching since 1973, said the pair is as good as he can remember.
“I can’t say enough about how I feel about and how much respect I have for what they’ve been able to accomplish and what they’ve done this year,” Saban said.
Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said it best when he was asked about the Crimson Tide’s game plan for the Georgia running game: “You know, we’re gonna try to play with 13 if they let us.”