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Nick Chubb Rocks Tarheels in Georgia’s First Win of the Kirby Smart Era

One of Mark Richt’s things in his time as coach at Georgia was always deferring the kickoff to the second half when he won the coin toss. So when Kirby Smart won the toss in his first game as UGA’s coach and elected to receive, it seemed like a message for all Bulldog fans, saying, “Yes, this is a new era.” 

Of course, when North Carolina returned the kick he deferred to the Tar Heels in the second for a touchdown, a few fans probably wished to go back to the Richtian way of doing things, but the point still stands.

Despite Smart’s efforts to try and change the way the team operates, his Bulldogs looked just like Richt’s in some spots during the season-opening 33-24 win against North Carolina at the Georgia Dome. But the big difference between the team we saw on Saturday and the teams we’ve seen for the last few years is that when the pressure started to stack up, the Bulldogs didn’t crumble. Instead, they played their best football of the game and willed out the victory, with some assistance from bad penalties by UNC.

No surprise here, but the star of the night was Nick Chubb. In his first game back from a gnarly knee ligament tear in Knoxville last season, Chubb looked every bit of the Baby Herschel we’ve come to love over the last two seasons. He rumbled for 222 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries (a nice 6.9 yards per carry). Chubb’s biggest play of the night came when he put the game out of doubt with a 55-yarder that gave Georgia its ultimate nine-point lead late in the fourth quarter.

It’s only week one, but after the display Chubb put on—combined with the fact that LSU’s Leonard Fournette only went for 138 yards (I know, “only”) in the Tigers’ loss to Wisconsin—Georgia might have a Heisman front-runner on its hands. If Chubb stays healthy, there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll get an invitation to New York come December.

From Todd Gurley two seasons ago to Chubb last year, we’ve been unlucky in the tailback department injury-wise. But UGA’s pipeline of tailback prospects is one of the richest in the nation, and the heir apparent to Chubb and Sony Michel—who didn’t play against UNC while still recovering from injury—appears to be freshman Brian Herrian. Herrian ran for 59 yards and a touchdown on 8.4 ypc. He looked like a player that would come in and start at a lot of big programs from his limited carries in week one. Between him, Chubb, and Michel, the Bulldogs appear to potentially have the most lethal 1-2-3 punch in the country

So, say it with me now. You know the words already: RUN. THE. DANG. BALL. KIRBY.

We still don’t have an answer to the quarterback question after week one. Greyson Lambert started, but freshman Jacob Eason played just as much time, totaling 131 yards and a touchdown on 8-for-12 passing compared to Lambert’s 54 yards on 5-for-8 passing. However, Smart seemed to have a bit more faith in Lambert, handing the senior the reins in the two-minute drill at the end of each half.

It’s still in the air who starts next weeks and into the future. Eason, like we all assumed, looks like a better quarterback. He was poised in the pocket, and his 51-yard bomb to Isaiah McKenzie was a thing to behold. Where Lambert has the advantage is in the minutiae around the position, the communication in the huddle and at the line. In Smart’s mind that may give Lambert the advantage, but in mine it’s all the more reason to play Eason. Those things are only achieved through reps, so the more he plays, the better he’ll be. Once the freshman figures out those parts of the games to combine with his physical attributes, he’ll be one helluva quarterback.

Regardless of who you think should be No. 1, we need to figure out exactly what we’re doing at quarterback soon and name a full-time starter. A two-QB system isn’t sustainable for an entire season. Trying to do that is simply playing with fire, and we will get burned. My vote goes to Eason. He has more potential, and I’d like to reach it as soon as possible. I’d rather go through a few growing pains with Eason than rocket our heads into Lambert’s low ceiling. 

But the uncertainty at quarterback isn’t this team’s only problem. Special teams were… bad. There was the aforementioned kick-return TD, as well as a missed field goal by William Ham. Special teams errors were our undoing so many times in the Richt era that it would be a bitter irony if Kirby improved the team in every phase of the game over Richt except special teams, and then let that cost us a game. Please don’t let this happen, Kirby. Fix the special teams.

There were problems that must be addressed, but Georgia looks like the class of another weak SEC East after it got the division’s best win of week one. Division favorite Tennessee scraped out a win against Appalachian State. Florida looked bad against UMass. Missouri lost to West Virginia. Kentucky lost to Southern Miss. South Carolina had to make a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Vanderbilt, and Vanderbilt is still Vanderbilt. From what we saw in the first week, there’s no reason Georgia can’t win the East in Smart’s first season.

Next up is Nicholls State in Athens. It’s a cupcake game that will let us get some joy and confidence from what will likely be a blowout win before tough road games against Mizzou and Ole Miss in weeks three and four. Onward.