Before the season, I was one of the many people saying that Arkansas had the best running back combination in the country with Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. In this season, anyway, that assertion won't get tested on the field because of Williams missing the season.
I am willing to guess, though, that I could have been wrong even if Williams had been available to play. I think it's likely that Georgia has a better pair of tailbacks in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. We didn't get to see the two of them wreck many offenses as freshmen last year with Michel missing time with injuries of his own. This year, though, they both are healthy and are causing considerable trouble for opposing teams.
Yesterday, I ran through the most important of Chubb's numbers in my Heisman watch post. He's averaging an absurd 8.4 yards per carry with a healthy 57.1% success rate. He's also the most explosive of the high profile SEC runners with one out of every four of his runs going for ten yards or more. That's nuts.
Chubb is known for being a strong runner, and that certainly is an apt description. What sets him apart, though, is his vision. He sees holes that haven't opened up yet and will get to them at just the right time. He knows when to cut and when to power through. He's also more agile than, say, Derrick Henry. He's not Barry Sanders, but he can elude people when he needs to.
Michel is not quite the runner that Chubb is. He's averaging "only" 5.7 yards per carry, a nice rate that a lot of other backs would love to hit. His success rate on runs is low at 26.9%, but it comes up to a better 37.5% if you eliminate 3rd-and-long or attempts inside his own 20 (near-hopeless run situations that comprise more than a third of his attempts for some reason). He's more of a boom or bust guy, with his explosive percentage still being 23.1% despite getting stuffed more than Chubb does.
What sets Michel apart is his aptitude in the passing game. Chubb is not much of a factor as a receiver, even in the screen game. Michel is, and when he gets the ball in space in the pass game, magic can happen thanks to his ability to make defenders miss. He already has seven catches on the year, and his 20.1 yards per reception is sixth among SEC receivers and best of conference running backs. He's caught every pass targeted at him, showing good hands, and three of those seven catches have been for touchdowns. All of his receptions have gone for ten yards or more, two have gone more than 30 yards, and his receiving success rate is a perfect 100%.
Chubb and Michel's closest analogue is probably the Henry-Kenyan Drake combination at Alabama. Chubb has outplayed Henry so far, though, and Michel and Drake have been comparable. That gives the edge to Georgia's guys. And while both Williams and Collins are a little better runners than Michel is, they're not on Chubb's level, and neither has shown up as big in the passing game as Michel has.
With Greyson Lambert setting an NCAA record for completion percentage last weekend, the dividends paid by the Bulldogs having the best running back combination extend beyond just the ground game. Certainly some of that was good execution by Lambert and his receivers, and the general ineptitude of South Carolina's defense pitched in as well. However the effort needed to stop the runners left plenty of receivers wide open, particularly after halftime. It takes a lot to stop those guys, and attempting to do so will leave you open to getting exploited by the pass.
So I'm calling it now: Georgia has the best pair of running backs in the country. Anyone care to differ?