SEC Football Q&A: How Concerning Is the Injury to Georgia RB Sony Michel?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJuly 5, 2016

Georgia RB Sony Michel
Georgia RB Sony MichelRob Foldy/Getty Images

If you receive an alert from Team Stream regarding your college football team during the summer months, it's typically not good news. 

Georgia found that out on Monday when news broke that running back Sony Michel, who ran for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns in essentially two-thirds of the season as the No. 1 running back for the Bulldogs, broke his arm in an off-field incident Sunday night, according to Anthony Dasher of UGASports.com.

The specific circumstances related to the incident weren't released by the school, but Dasher reported that Michel suffered the injury in an ATV incident on Sunday night. The rising junior tailback underwent surgery on Monday. No timetable was given on how long Michel will be out, but it's safe to assume that he won't be at 100 percent when Georgia kicks off fall camp in August.

How concerned should Georgia fans be? Who can pick up the slack? Those questions and more are answered in this edition of SEC Q&A.

Joseph Noble @JosephNoble2

@BarrettSallee If Michel can't play, what can we expect from Elijah Holyfield?

Michel was a role player for the first two-plus years of his Georgia career, but was thrust into the starting role when fellow junior Nick Chubb tore ligaments in his knee during the Tennessee game in early October 2015. Since that point, Michel posted four 100-yard games, had 20 or more carries in seven contests and finished the 2015 season averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

With Chubb still rehabbing from his knee injury, first-year head coach Kirby Smart was counting on Michel picking up right where he left off last year and providing a solid "1B" option as Chubb rounds back into form.

One of the likely contenders to step in at the running back spot for Georgia is true freshman Elijah Holyfield, who is the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield. He rushed for 1,735 yards and 25 touchdowns in 14 games as a junior at Woodward Academy near Atlanta in 2014, according to MaxPreps.com, and followed it up with 1,069 yards and 21 touchdowns in nine games as a senior.

While Holyfield is talented and will certainly play a role this year, he won't be the every-down running back from Day 1.

Senior Brendan Douglas is a seasoned veteran who has rushed for 370 yards and two touchdowns over the last two seasons, Tae Crowder was one of the primary backs this spring behind Michel, and Shaq Wilson moved over from wide receiver during spring practice to provide depth for a unit that desperately needed it.

Georgia RB Sony Michel
Georgia RB Sony MichelBrett Davis/Associated Press

If Michel isn't 100 percent, it's far more likely that Smart will go with a running back-by-committee approach until Michel and Chubb prove that they're back, with Holyfield being a small part of that committee early.

Georgia's quarterback situation also plays into this quite a bit. 

With the running back position in a bind, it's more likely that senior Greyson Lambert—who started all but one game last season—will see more snaps early. Having experience in the backfield will take on more importance, and Lambert is more comfortable with the speed of the game than junior Brice Ramsey and true freshman 5-star Jacob Eason

The bottom line is that Michel's injury is the last thing that Smart wanted to hear heading into his first season in the Classic City. 

The stability that Michel brings to the table was vital to the success of the 2016 Bulldogs. With his status—along with Chubb's—in doubt early in the season, Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney can't feel comfortable about anything in their backfield.

That makes the season opener versus UNC even more of a challenge, and can certainly play into how Smart approaches the quarterback battle during fall camp.

Georgia fans should be concerned. 

Nick Gray @ngray_63

@BarrettSallee Which side of the ball from any of the 14 teams is a group in which people are sleeping on?

Without a doubt, it's Auburn's defense.

It seems like criticizing Auburn for mediocre defense has become more of an instinct than actual analysis over the better part of a decade, but that will change this year under first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele provided that there aren't any catastrophic injuries.

When defensive end Carl Lawson was healthy last year, not only was Auburn's defense competitive, it was actually good.

Auburn DE Carl Lawson
Auburn DE Carl LawsonJoe Robbins/Getty Images

The Tigers held Louisville scoreless in the first half of the season opener before Lawson went out with a hip injury, and gave up just 339 yards per game over the last five games with Lawson back. Included in that mark was a stifling performance against a potent Memphis offense in the Birmingham Bowl, in which the Tigers gave up just 205 yards and 3.01 yards per play to an offense that averaged 486.9 and 6.15, respectively. 

Lawson is back, along with defensive tackle Montravius Adams, a loaded front four that has depth and versatility, and a secondary that includes freshman All-SEC cornerback Carlton Davis and veteran safeties Rudy Ford and Tray Matthews. What's more, Auburn upgraded at linebacker when it lured T.J. Neal—he of 14 tackles for loss in 2015—away from Illinois as a graduate transfer to fill the void left by Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy. 

Steele wasn't stellar as LSU's coordinator last year when his former Tigers gave up 347.2 yards per game (fifth in the SEC) and 24.3 points per game (10th). But Auburn hasn't finished in the top half of the SEC in yards per game since 2007. Similar production with Auburn in 2016 should be enough to vault head coach Gus Malzahn's crew back into SEC West contention this year, provided that Malzahn's offense packs a little more punch than it did in 2015 when it gained just 370 yards per game.

If Lawson is in the lineup, the entire Auburn defense will benefit and it will shed the "punchline" label that has been attached to it ever since the start of the Gene Chizik era in 2009.

Bradley Barton @DuckmanBarton

@BarrettSallee can chad Kelly break the total yards record for a single season this year after coming in third last year

No, but it wouldn't surprise me if he came close to matching that production in 2015.

It seems like Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly's 2015 season in which he amassed 4,542 total yards—more than former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow gained during their Heisman Trophy years in 2010 and 2007, respectively.

SEC Single-Season Total Offense Records
PlayerSchoolYearTotal Offense
Johnny ManzielTexas A&M20125,116
Johnny ManzielTexas A&M20134,873
Chad KellyOle Miss20154,542
Dak PrescottMississippi State20144,435
Dak PrescottMississippi State20154,381
Cam NewtonAuburn20104,327
Tim TebowFlorida20074,181
CFBStats.com / SEC Media Guide

Kelly will still be a force, has a coach in Hugh Freeze who has successfully game-planned around offensive line and rushing attack issues in the past, and has plenty of weapons around him that can help keep the Rebels in the SEC West conversation. But Ole Miss' concerns—offensive line and a consistent between-the-tackles rushing attack—haven't improved from last season, and the wide receiving corps—while talented—will be without star Laquon Treadwell.

Kelly will still put up video game stats and post a solid year, but can he gain 574 more yards and top Johnny Manziel's Heisman season of 2012? That's a lot to ask, and shouldn't be the expectation of Kelly this year.

Repeating last year's season, minus a few of the 13 interceptions, will be all Freeze needs from his senior signal-caller, and should be the expectation in Oxford.

Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly
Ole Miss QB Chad KellyJoe Robbins/Getty Images
Bench Points @BenchPointsBlog

@BarrettSallee what do you see being the biggest challenge the SEC faces to remain at the top of the conference heap?

It's the obvious answer, but it's also the right one. It's quarterback play.

Kelly will be fine, and Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs should be as well if his wide receivers help him out more. But as I pointed out last week, where are the rest?

When we vote on All-SEC quarterbacks next week at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, we're almost forced to vote for either LSU's Brandon Harris or Texas A&M's Trevor Knight as the preseason third-team quarterback.

That doesn't exactly shine a positive light on the state of quarterback play in the SEC.

If a few of the newcomers or players who struggled last year impress, the SEC will stay atop its perch as the unquestioned top conference in college football. If it doesn't, that moniker might be on less stable ground depending on what happens in other conferences.

With that said, it would take monumental efforts from the mid-tier teams of other conferences—specifically either the Big Ten or Pac-12—to come close to matching the depth that the SEC boasts from top to bottom. 

If that happens, or the SEC struggles again at the quarterback spot, I could see another conference making a push to remove that title from the SEC.

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.


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