KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The last time Nick Chubb had been at Neyland Stadium, he thought it was his last.
Forget the fact that he didn't think he'd ever play football there again. Some thought he may never play again, period.
It was Oct. 10, 2015. Georgia was 4-1, and the Bulldogs were facing the Vols at Neyland. On the first play of the game, Chubb took a handoff and ran 2 yards towards the left sideline. He was tripped up, and he broke his fall and tried to spin. As he spun, he was hit while going out of bounds, forcing his left leg to bend in an unnatural direction. It was a gruesome knee injury, and his season was over. The possible Heisman campaign was over.
After a long recovery, Chubb faced the Vols again in 2016 in a game that ended with Josh Dobbs throwing a successful Hail Mary to win the game and stun the Bulldogs. Chubb hardly played in that game, and he dealt with the mental ramifications of coming back from a season-ending injury like the one against the Vols throughout the season.
Two years later, Chubb would finally get his redemption. Saturday, he returned to Neyland Stadium in a game he thought he would never play in.
"I know last time when I was carted off the field, I told myself I’d never come back here," Chubb said after the Bulldogs' 41-0 blowout victory against Tennessee.
The Bulldogs shutout the Vols for the first time since 1981, and it was the first time since 1923 that the Bulldogs did it in Knoxville. Chubb rushed for 109 yards. He took hits and strong tackles. But he continued to barrel forward. He said there was no fear. No trepidation.
"Just to come back here and walk off on my own, it’s definitely a blessing," Chubb said.
Chubb said facing Tennessee and returning to Neyland wasn't something that was a factor in his decision to return for his senior season. But head coach Kirby Smart revealed that Saturday's game was something Chubb truly cared about.
"He talked to the team on Friday. And I didn’t have to say a whole lot," Smart said. "His message to the team was, ‘Hey man, this game means something to me. It’s important to me.’ And he didn’t really get to play against them last year. He knew it was his last shot. And he didn’t really have great memories from the last time he was here. That wore on the team because the team wants to do well for Nick."
The team delivered.
True freshman quarterback Jake Fromm threw for one touchdown and rushed for two. His friend and fellow tailback Sony Michel rushed for a touchdown. And the defense kept the Vols' offense off the field. Tyrique McGhee had an interception on the first play of the game. Chubb appreciated their efforts.
"It felt like were were on the field more than the sideline. That’s a good sign," Chubb said.
They did it for Chubb, and the senior was able to end things in Knoxville on his own terms. But by no means is this the end of the story.
The Bulldogs are 5-0 for the first time since 2012, and there's still a lot of season left.
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