Georgia had no business beating North Carolina Saturday night in Atlanta.
The game was a battle between two disjointed, not-yet-ready-to-play teams — there were 21 combined penalties for a combined 271 yards, a bizarre quarterback rotation from Georgia, a safety that came on a completed pass from inside the end zone, and enough game management errors to fill a season.
For a while, it looked as if No. 22 North Carolina would be victorious in a game where neither team deserved a victory.
Luckily for No. 18 Georgia, Nick Chubb was wearing red again.
Chubb was, hands-down, the best player on the field Saturday — on a field with tons of talent — and that distinction was good enough to put Georgia over the top.
The 5-foot-10, 225-pound back needed three or four defenders to bring him down on almost every play. As Georgia’s quarterback rotation prevented either Greyson Lambert or Jacob Eason from developing any rhythm, Chubb was the steady hand. UGA went to him early and often, and by the end of the contest, he had carried the call 32 times for 222 yards.
Where would Georgia have been without Chubb? Probably not 1-0.
Georgia has eyes on winning the SEC East title this year, but with a new head coach, an almost entirely new front-seven, and — at best — a true freshman quarterback, the beginning of this season is going to be rough for the Dawgs.
But having Chubb to hold down the fort while Smart, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, and Jacob Eason figure it out is a true luxury. Just ride him out until you can take the load off his shoulders.
And that makes Chubb the most important player in the SEC.
Saturday was the clearest example of Chubb’s importance.
His steady-as-he-goes play, as exceptional as it was, hadn’t given Georgia much breathing room. The Dawgs only led UNC by two when they regained possession with 3:34 left in the fourth quarter.
Chubb had already rushed for 167 yards on 31 carries. He looked tired and beaten up. No matter. On the first play of the drive, Chubb busted off the game-winning 55-yard touchdown run. Game over.
It’s amazing to think that Chubb was able to almost singlehandedly carry the Dawgs to victory Saturday, because 13 months ago, he did this to his knee:
The question is how long Chubb can keep Georgia’s hopes afloat. The Dawgs play FCS side Nichols State next week, but then face three starkly different challenges to start SEC play: Missouri’s tough defense and Ole Miss’ passing game, both on the road, and Tennessee.
It’s one thing to run all over one of the worst run defenses in the nation, but will Georgia be in a position to provide him any help in those contests?
Then again, if they don’t, and Chubb wins the games for UGA anyway, will anyone be in a position to deny his importance?