NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Southeastern Conference teams are getting plenty of help from the “next man up” because of injuries and suspensions as the regular season winds down.
Players such as Nick Chubb of Georgia, Joshua Dobbs at Tennessee, Florida’s Treon Harris and Kyle Allen of Texas A&M are salvaging the season of their teams.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said there’s no choice but to move on when a team loses a player for whatever the reason. He lost receiver A.J. Greene in 2010 for four games when suspended for selling a bowl jersey, and now running back Todd Gurley is returning from a four-game suspension that forced the freshman Chubb into heavy duty.
“You have no choice but to put the next best man in there and get after it,” Richt said. “I think Nick Chubb filled in pretty darn good. We didn’t have a huge drop off at that position.”
Chubb helped keep the 16th-ranked Bulldogs a game out of first in the SEC East. The freshman ran for 671 yards with five touchdowns while Gurley was out, and he combined for 215 yards and two touchdowns in Georgia’s loss to Florida.
Injury forced Tennessee coach Butch Jones to turn to Dobbs last month. Senior Justin Worley tore a labrum in his shoulder, ending his season. The Vols had hoped to redshirt the sophomore Dobbs, but he rallied them from 14 points down inside the final 5 minutes at South Carolina on Nov. 1 to pull out an overtime win.
Dobbs became the first Vol to throw for at least 300 yards and run for at least 100 yards in the same game. Now the Vols need two wins in the final three games to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. That hasn’t stopped Jones from demanding consistency from his quarterback, which Dobbs welcomes.
“It keeps me on my toes, which I have to be to play quarterback in the SEC,” Dobbs said.
With million-dollar coaching salaries, poor performance means a short leash. Senior linebacker D.J. Welter lost his job at LSU, and sophomore Kendell Beckwith started the past four games.
At Florida and Texas A&M, too many turnovers prompted changes at quarterback. Florida lost three of four and Jeff Driskel was responsible for 12 of the Gators’ 17 turnovers, so coach Will Muschamp started freshman Treon Harris against Georgia. Texas A&M had lost three straight SEC games with Kenny Hill committing seven turnovers in the skid, knocking the Aggies out of the Top 25.
Now Harris has won two straight, helping to keep Muschamp around and put the Gators two games back of Missouri in the SEC Eastern Division race.
Kyle Allen won the starting quarterback job from Hill during Texas A&M’s open date, but the freshman has played so well Hill isn’t getting his job back now that he’s back from a two-game suspension. Allen became the first Aggies’ freshman quarterback to win his debut since 1992, downing Louisiana Monroe and then upsetting then-No. 3 Auburn 41-38 on the road last week in his first SEC start.
“We’d seen it in practice, so what he’s doing right now is no surprise to any of us,” said Aggies wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones.
Taking over midseason has its challenges. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said Allen is embracing his role as the Aggies’ leader. But the freshman is a Type-A personality who plays better when he’s relaxed and smiling, so Sumlin said he tries to keep Allen that way on the sideline.
“When you’re young … and it’s your second start on the road against Auburn, you probably just need to worry about what you’re doing that day,” Sumlin said.
Still, being benched hurts, especially in the SEC where athletes come to play. Now relegated to spot duty, Driskel is doing what he can to contribute, so he is helping the freshman Harris become more comfortable calling plays.
“There’s no point of looking back or looking into the future,” Driskel said. “You’ve got to be able to focus on one day at a time and one team at a time. That’s what I’m doing right now.”
Chubb is one breakout star who’s relegated to backup with Gurley’s return. Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason thinks Chubb will be fine with that Saturday.
“I think he’ll be excited not to have to carry the ball 35 times,” Mason said.
Until his number is called again.
-Published by Andrew Thompson