ATLANTA -- There could not have been a better way for Nick Chubb to return.
With the Georgia Bulldogs fighting to hold on to their 2-point lead with roughly four minutes to go against the North Carolina Tar Heels, Chubb got the hand-off from starting quarterback Greyson Lambert and exploded for a 55-yard touchdown run.
The No. 18 Bulldogs, who trailed by as many as 10 points, would hang on to defeat No. 22 North Carolina 33-24 in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff game at the Georgia Dome, giving first-year head coach Kirby Smart his first victory.
It was Chubb's first game since a gruesome injury last October against Tennessee that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
"A lot of things I did to get here, and I didn't do it by myself," Chubb said, mentioning his long and lengthy rehab and everyone who helped him along the way. " I'm doing it for them. I got up every morning, workout...it wasn't for me, it was for them."
Everyone Chubb thanked must have enjoyed watching him put on a show Saturday. He finished with 222 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Chubb scored Georgia's first touchdown of the season on a 2-yard rush.
"Somebody asked me if he was on a pitch count. I guess not," Smart said on Chubb, laughing. "He works so hard. Not many of you know what he went through, when you're going out and doing extra Taekwondo at night, early morning. There's a reason he's was in the shape he's in, and it's because of the way he works."
While Chubb got the hand-off from Lambert on his second touchdown run, Georgia's true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason played most of the game.
Eason completed eight passes for 131 yards, averaging more than 10 yards per pass. He threw one touchdown.
Down 24-23, Eason found Isaiah McKenzie on third-and-5 for a 51-yard pass play, putting the Bulldogs in the red zone. After a failed pass from Eason to Terry Godwin, who was in the end zone, William Ham kicked a 29-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs a 2-point lead. They would not trail again after that.
Ham was 1-for-2, missing a 42-yard attempt in the first half.
In a last second comeback effort, Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky thought he had found receiver Mack Hollins on third down, who was suspended for the first half of the game for targeting in the Russell Athletic Bowl last season. However, a review showed Hollins did not have possession of the ball. On the next play, the Tar Heels turned it over on downs.
The Bulldogs led 14-10 at the half, but allowed a 95-yard return for a touchdown by T.J. Logan on the second half kickoff, giving the Tar Heels their first lead of the game.
Logan, the team's second running back behind Elijah Hood, later scored on a 21-yard run to extend their lead to 10. He finished with 80 yards on six carries. Hood finished with 72 yards on 10 carries.
Smart said he was proud of his team's resiliency after the start of the second half, admiring their ability to battle back despite the fact that he and his players knew there were doubters saying, "Here we go again."
But the Bulldogs chugged down the field in the third quarter, getting help from two pass interference penalties by freshman Patrice Rene that put the Bulldogs just outside the end zone. Four plays later, Eason found McKenzie for his first touchdown, a 17-yard pass that cut the Tar Heels' lead to three.
On the next drive, the Tar Heels were penalized for an illegal man down field. Head coach Larry Fedora argued the penalty and was called for unsportsmanlike like conduct. That put the Tar Heels on their own four.
Trubisky found Hood in North Carolina's own end zone, getting pushed out for a safety and cutting the Tar Heels lead to one. The string of penalties mixed with the safety drained any momentum the Tar Heels had. The Tar Heels had 13 penalties for 101 yards.
Trubisky finished with 156 yards and no touchdowns.
Lambert, a fifth-year senior, got the start at quarterback for Georgia, which was announced earlier in the week.
Lambert was under center for the Bulldogs' first three drives. But as North Carolina drove down the field to score their first points of the game on a 1-yard Trubisky run, Eason began warming up on the sideline and came in on the next drive.
Eason handed the ball off to Chubb on his first play. On the next play, Eason's first throw was a quick pass to Godwin, who took it for 23 yards for Eason's first completion.
Smart said after the game there is no starter named for the next game against Nicholls State.
True freshman Brian Herrien scored a 23-yard touchdown on his first career carry for the Bulldogs second touchdown of the game.