The Georgia Bulldogs struggled, but were ultimately able to overcome the Nicholls Colonels 26-24 in their home opener. It was the first regular season game played under new head coach Kirby Smart in Athens. Georgia (2-0), No. 9 in the AP poll, trailed at one point to the FCS team who was attempting to shock the Bulldogs in its season opener.
Here are some things to take away from Saturday's game.
That was scary
When will we learn? It's easy to overlook FCS teams, especially when they are sandwiched in between opponents like North Carolina and Missouri. We saw a number of SEC schools overlook teams last week, and Georgia was nearly the next victim. But Nicholls came to play. Nicholls held a 14-13 lead in the third quarter, but it was quickly relinquished when Eason found Isaiah McKenzie for a 66-yard touchdown pass. On the next drive, the defense was able to force a fumble on quarterback Chase Fourcade and return it for a touchdown.
Smart said he didn't see that close of a game coming, but wasn't happy with much of how the team practiced this week, citing a lack of focus. He also was nervous when the rankings came out. The AP had Georgia had No. 9.
"That's always a concern for me. It's always, do you bring that up with your team?" Smart said. "We can't let that or someone moving us up in the rankings go to our heads. To be honest, I told them, that's what been done before."
A subtle shot at Mark Richt.
Eason's Debut Between the Hedges
Eason really got going in a drive at the end of the first quarter and went into the second that included a 29-yard pass to Charlie Woerner and 11-yard passes to Michael Chigbu and Terry Godwin. The drive ended in a field goal to put the Bulldogs up by 10, but it presented Eason's ability to stay poised and not get too discouraged easily. Eason was the first true freshman to start a game for the Bulldogs since Matthew Stafford in 2006.
His longest pass of the day was the 66-yard pass to McKenzie. He found McKenzie on a comeback rout near midfield, and the junior got an outstanding block by receiver Javon Wims to give McKenzie an open door to the end zone.
McKenzie finished with two receptions for 61 yards.
Eason finished 11-for-20 with 204 yards and one touchdown. He was intercepted for the first time by cornerback Jeff Hall, who ran it 91 yards down the field, breaking a few tackles along the way. It set up a Nicholls field goal to close the gap to nine midway through the fourth.
Smart said the interception was just Eason not throwing the ball where he was supposed to on a "safe" pass play. Overall, Smart was happy with how Eason played, but said he still has some work to do in executing the offense out of the huddle.
Greyson Lambert, who started against North Carolina, entered the game for the final two drives. He converted on a third-and-long late in the game, finding Chigbu for a first down to help run the clock down and hold on to the win. Chubb had a nice block to help the Bulldogs avoid disaster.
"It wasn't anything Jacob (Eason) was or wasn't doing," Smart said. "We thought we were going to have to throw the ball to score, which we were confident he could do."
"The decision to go with Greyson (Lambert) was more of a change-up," he added. "Let him go, get in there, show a little confidence with him in the four minute offense, be able to shift emotions in people, and hopefully run the ball and get the run game going, and let him execute the flow of the offense."
The offensive line struggled to open up holes and protect Eason, who was sacked one time. While Smart loves his line's leadership, he said they must improve, adding it could come to younger guy pushing for spots later in the season.
"We've got to take what we've got and get better," Smart said.
Nicholls State's rush defense makes UNC's look worse
Nicholls defense allowed an average of 422 total offensive yards last season. Saturday, they allowed 373 yards, 167 rushing yards.
After a monstrous 222-yard, two-touchdown performance by Nick Chubb against the Tar Heels, Chubb scored on the opening drive against the Colonels, suggesting another dominating performance by the junior. But the Nicholls front seven did a great job getting to Chubb, and he finished with 80 yards. It snapped Chubb's streak of 14 games with at least 100 rushing yards.
Chubb couldn't care less about the streak, but said after his lone rushing touchdown on the first drive of the game the he couldn't figure out the defense.
"I can't tell you, I don't know," Chubb said. "(We weren't) really tense, more like stunned for a minute. Just really had to look at ourselves and ask who we are."
"I certainly don't think they were any bigger or better than the guys from North Carolina," Smart said. " I was surprised they were able to control the defensive line."
Smart warned his team during the week that he didn't think they pushed North Carolina around. He told them they were more fortunate than anything that they were able to run over the Tar Heels and their inside guys.
"These guys, they didn't have dominant inside guys. They just whooped us."
Chubb contributed to Georgia's three turnovers in the game. He fumbled the ball in the first half, which opened the door for Nicholls to go 30 yards down the field and score on a rush by Dontrell Taylor. Taylor finished with 39 yards.
Georgia had three turnovers, resulting in 17 points against Nicholls defense and special teams.
Lorenzo Carter gives defense momentum after tough game
The defense helped shift the momentum after helping the Bulldogs extended their lead to 12 in the third quarter.
Cornerback Aaron Davis had a big hit on Figaro, forcing a fumble (confirmed by review), which was scooped up by Carter for a touchdown.
"We needed something to be done on defense," Carter said. "That was a good spark to kind of get us going."
That momentum kept going until late in the game. The defense only allowed a field goal after that until MacKenzie dropped a punt, giving the ball back to Nicholls with four minutes left in the game. The Colonels finished the drive with a touchdown finish the game two points behind the Bulldogs.
Dominick Sanders was another bright spot in the defense, which allowed 236 total offensive yards.
Sanders had an interception in the second quarter, the 10th of his career. He had a SEC best six interceptions last season. Juwuan Briscoe picked off Figaro on Nicholls first drive. However, both interceptions led to punts.
Sony Michel returns
Michel returned for the first game since breaking his forearm in an ATV accident during the offseason. He had three carries for three yards and caught two passes for five yards.
Smart was proud of Michel's leadership, something Smart said is missing from the team. Smart said he did not limit how many snaps Michel was playing.
"We were trying to get him into some situations where'd he'd get some loose plays, get the ball to the sideline and get some confidence," Smart said.
Georgia opens its SEC schedule on the road Saturday against Missouri.
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