Kirby Smart led the Bulldogs to a 33-24 victory over No. 22 North Carolina in the 2016 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game in his first game as head coach. There were both good things and bad things to learn from this game. Let us take a look at the top five takeaways from this game.
Jacob Eason is good
We all knew he was talented, but no one knew for sure how well Jacob Eason would do in his first collegiate game or even if he would play, after Greyson Lambert was named the starter. Eason came into the game on the fourth series to a roar of Georgia fans. Eason shared time with Lambert the rest of the game and was the most impressive as he went 8-of-12 for 131 yards on the night including an electrifying 51-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie.
One thing is now clear. Jacob Eason is the best quarterback on this team, and it’s not even close. While Lambert didn’t have terrible stats, it was obvious to anyone that watched the game that Georgia’s offense flowed better and was more dangerous with Eason in the game.
Nick Chubb is back 100% and is a sure-fire candidate for the Heisman
Chubb was the starter going into the game, and all signs pointed to him being totally fine for this game. Indeed he was. Chubb had a huge game in his first one back after his ugly season-ending injury against Tennessee in 2015.
Against UNC, Chubb carried his team on his shoulders, rushing for 222 yards on 32 carries (with a 6.9 yards per carry average) and scored two touchdowns. His last touchdown was a 55-yard touchdown run, which put Georgia up by nine points and made the score too much of a deficit for the Tar Heels to overcome. If Chubb stays healthy, he can build on this performance, and he has a solid chance of contending for the Heisman at the end of the year.
Sep 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb (27) runs for a touchdown against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the fourth quarter of the 2016 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
The defense is pretty good
Georgia fans thought their defense would be pretty good this year, but I, for one, was very nervous about how their defensive line would hold up and how the unit as a whole would go about slowing down a potent North Carolina offense.
They definitely showed up to play in this game and were impressive overall. They had their share of miscues, but the defense played pretty well considering who they were going up against. They held the Tar Heels to 24 points, which is pretty good when one takes into account that the UNC offense put up 37 points against Clemson last year.
The defense also came up big, particularly on one play late in the third quarter in which sophomore defensive tackle DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle blitzed Trubisky as he was backing up to pass in the end zone and forced a short throw to a UNC back who was tackled by linebacker Roquan Smith before the Tar Heel crossed the goal line. The defense has a long way to go, but overall, they performed pretty well in this game.
Besides Eason, the two biggest newcomers that stepped up were graduate transfer defensive back Maurice Smith and freshman running back Brian Herrien. Smith had a solid game and was probably the most underrated player in this game. He had five tackles and two crucial pass breakups, which basically saved two touchdowns.
Herrien was a surprise for many as the true freshman showed how much potential he has as he was second on the team in rushing with 59 yards and a touchdown. Another impressive youngster was freshman defensive end David Marshall among others.
Georgia’s special teams has a ways to go
Ah, the Georgia special teams. How many times has this aspect screwed the Dawgs over in the past several years? Answer: a lot. Thankfully, it didn’t cost Georgia this game, but the unit will have to improve as the season goes on. The most glaring example of UGA special teams failure in this game was the 95-yard kickoff return touchdown by T.J. Logan of North Carolina to open the second half.
Other than that the coverage units were okay, but the kicking game is another story. William Ham missed a 42-yard field goal in the second quarter, which could have been huge if the second half had gone differently. Also, Georgia’s punting was not a strong suit in this game, so the Bulldogs have a lot of work to do.
Overall, Georgia played well considering it was their first game. They do have a bunch of things to work on, but all that matters is that the Dawgs got the win over the Heels and started the Kirby Smart Era off on the right foot.