Same story; different teams, similar outcomes. The narrative surrounds two diverse football players with a couple commonalities: injuries and being team captains. One was a skill player, the other an interior linemen
Georgia’s running back Nick Chubb and Kentucky’s nose guard Melvin Lewis’ absence has significantly contributed to both team’s downward spiral. Neither program has recovered from losing their on and off the field leaders. After losing three of their last four games, both the Cats and Dawgs are searching for answers.
Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb suffered a knee injury on the first play from scrimmage in the Dawg’s matchup against Tennessee. Although he only played in five complete games, the sophomore remains the SEC’s 3rd leading rusher and had rushed for over one hundred yards in thirteen consecutive games. As a freshman, Chubb took over for the All-American Todd Gurley and did so impressively. The 2014 SEC Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-American rushed for 1,547 yards.
Kentucky’s Melvin Lewis took a different path in becoming an All-SEC caliber nose tackle. Defensive coordinator DJ Eliot described Lewis as one of the most improved players on the team and credited his success to hard work, diligence, and dedication. The Compton, California native overcame incredible odds including a stay at Fullerton College prior to signing with the Cats. Following a redshirt season, Lewis became a mainstay along the Wildcat defensive front.
Going into 2015, Melvin had battled his way into being a team captain and the mature leader of a youthful defensive line corps. Injured against Auburn, Kentucky has struggled to replace his on-center presence and “grown up” locker room influence.
The impact of Nick Chubb’s injury
In preseason position group rankings, many had UGA with the SEC’s top running backs, linebackers, and offensive line. During the month of September, the Dawgs averaged 257 yards rushing per game. Post-Nick Chubb has resulted in 139 yards rushing per game and the once dominant offensive line in a current state of disarray. This week, Mark Richt benched All-SEC guard Greg Pyke and shuffled the OL depth chart trying to rekindle the once potent Georgia run game. In their past three outings, UGA’s rush total has steadily declined from 165 yards, 120, to 69.
With a limited running game; Tennessee, Missouri, and Florida loaded the box and dared Georgia to beat them through the air. The Dawgs have struggled in the passing department as well. QB Faton Bauta had his first and apparent last start of the season against Florida. The result was a 27-3 loss and four interceptions. Today Brice Ramsey and Greyson Lambert will both take snaps against Kentucky.
UGA was the preemptive favorites to win the SEC East with a legitimate shot at the college football playoff. Sitting at 5-3 and swirling in turmoil, both goals are unachievable. More notably, Georgia hasn’t scored a touchdown in its last two games. Four field goals in eight quarters does not satisfy the football crazy Bulldog fan base.
The impact of Melvin Lewis’s injury
When Lewis anchored the defensive line, Kentucky surrendered 23 points per game. Without Melvin, UK has given up an average of 47 points against Mississippi State and Tennessee. The obvious factor can’t be overlooked, the Dogs and Vols are two of the SEC’s Top 5 offenses. However, Kentucky has appeared less poised and played with lesser passion without their senior leader on the field. Matt Elam and Adrian Middleton have combined in an attempt to replace Lewis. Results are still pending.
One direct correlation of UK’s defensive decline and the loss of Melvin Lewis is illustrated in MLB Josh Forrest’s tackle production. In the six games in which Lewis played, Forrest averaged 9.8 tackles per game. Against Miss State and Tennessee, the senior linebacker’s average dropped to 4 per game. Nose tackles aren’t recognized in box scores or highlights. The big guys are gauged on how many blockers they consume and the number of tackles the linebacker are able to accumulate due to their presence.
In September, Kentucky had a puncher’s chance at competing for the SEC East title. Going into Saturday’s game in Athens, the Cats are fighting for bowl eligibility and attempting to regain a portion of the BBN’s admiration. September aspirations were unrealistic, however the past 14 days have been concerning.
Are two players that important? Football teams are conditioned to deal with injury. Attrition is expected and a part of the game. However, after analyzing both Kentucky and Georgia, neither have rebounded from losing its team captain as both continue to glide on a downward trajectory. Leadership matters. Whether in the stadium, on the practice field, or in the training facility; a calming yet fiery accountability enforcer accounts for more than touchdowns and tackles. The Cats and Dawgs miss their leaders.