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Georgia running back Nick Chubb (left) and Florida running back Malik Davis are both keys for their team Saturday.

Comparing Malik Davis’ breakout freshman season to Nick Chubb’s debut at Georgia

Ryan Young

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Florida and Georgia don’t have all that much in common this season.

The Bulldogs have found a steadying presence at quarterback in freshman Jake Fromm while the Gators are still waiting for redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks to settle in to the role.

The veterans Bulldogs have the third-ranked defense in the country while the Gators are young but improving.

Georgia has rolled through its schedule so far undefeated with only one close game, a marquee 20-19 win at Notre Dame. Florida is 3-3 and coming off back-to-back narrow losses.

There is one comparison to make, though, as both sides rely on their impressive running backs to set the tone offensively.

Georgia has two veteran backs in seniors Nick Chubb (688 rushing yards, 8 TDs) and Sony Michel (492 yards, 6 TDs) while Florida has formed its own productive one-two punch with freshman Malik Davis (506 yards, 2 TDs) and sophomore Lamical Perine (184 yards and 6 TDs in just the last three games).

Davis is the one everybody is talking about as the next star for the Gators at that position, though, as he’s been consistently impressive since getting his shot in his first season.

And he is once again the focus of the Gators Mailbag Question of the Day.

Tory C. asks … “Is Davis the most talented back you have seen in Florida since Jeff Demps?”

I gathered up the opinions of a couple of colleagues with more vivid firsthand memories of Demps and some of the backs since him. The collective opinion is maybe, but it depends on how you look at it.

Mike Gillislee and Matt Jones, in particular, have gone on to have decent runs in the NFL, and Gillislee is one of just two Florida running backs since 2005 to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season. In terms of talent, they are certainly up there.

But no Florida running back has both led the team in rushing and averaged at least 6 yards per carry since Demps rushed for 591 on just 92 carries (6.4 YPC) in 2010.

Davis (6.7 YPC on 75 attempts) is making his case with each passing game and he’s only a first-year freshman. That’s the bigger point.

He’s clearly the most impressive freshman running back Florida has had since Demps averaged 7.8 YPC as a newcomer in 2008, and if he can stay healthy and build on his strong start over the next couple or few seasons, he has a chance to leave school way up there on the career rushing list.

Meanwhile, another fun comparison to make — especially this week — is with Georgia’s Chubb, who also had a breakout first season in the SEC.

That’s setting the bar really high for Davis’ career, but with so little going right on offense for the Gators, why not get excited about the long-term potential for such a dynamic young playmaker?

So to start the comparison, Davis has both a bit of a head start and yet a lot of work to do to match Chubb’s rookie numbers.

Chubb didn’t receive more than 11 carries in a game until his sixth contest of that 2014 season, when he broke out for 143 yards on 38 touches against Missouri. He had 70 yards on 4 carries against Clemson in his first game and 78 yards on 8 carries against Vanderbilt in his fifth before becoming a true featured back after Todd Gurley’s season-ending injury midway through that fall.

Starting with that breakout against Missouri, Chubb averaged an incredible 165.4 yards over the final eight games.

Davis caught his break a little sooner. After getting just 5 carries over the first two games, he has averaged 17.5 attempts over the last four contests. Add in his 94-yard effort on 4 touches vs. Tennessee and he has five straight 90-yard performances, averaging 99.6 yards per game in that span.

So in terms of raw numbers, it’s hard to see him catching Chubb’s rookie totals, but take a closer look and the difference isn’t all that significant.

Chubb averaged 7.1 yards per carry as a freshman while Davis is averaging 6.7 yards per attempt. Chubb also got 23.5 attempts per game after taking over for Gurley. If Davis received the same workload and maintained the same yards-per-carry rate, he’d average 157.5 yards per game.

That’s a pretty fair comparison when you think about it.

Chubb improved to 8.1 yards per carry as a sophomore before a significant left knee injury ended his season after six games. He bounced back last year to average 5.0 yards per carry and is at 6.4 yards per touch this fall.

Davis doesn’t need to chase Chubb, though. He has a chance to create his own impressive identity, gaining more national recognition with every standout performance while further establishing himself as the next star running back at Florida.

It’s still so early, but sure, it’s easy to see Davis answering the initial question pretty convincingly before he’s done here.

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