Opening week is different. Georgia fans have had eight full months to look forward to last Saturday’s season opening match-up against defending ACC Coastal Champion, North Carolina Tar Heels. Bulldog nation was excited, but had questions as well.
While it’s just one game, some answers are emerging from the off-season haze. Georgia came out and executed the game plan, repeatedly fed a healthy Nick Chubb the ball, and contained a potent Carolina offense 16 points off their 2015 average.
Georgia’s Game Grades:
On the offensive side of the ball, Georgia returned seven starters from 2015. The team averaged 26.3 points a game last season. Georgia effectively utilized the run game and exposed a weak Carolina run defense. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney relied heavily on the running backs, and the Bulldogs were able to put together several long drives with 50% success on third downs. The offense stuck to their game plan, adjusted when needed, and overall looked like a very well coached football team.
Offensive Stat of the Game: Time of Possession. Georgia lead this category 38:07 to 21:53. The Bulldogs were able to hold on to the ball and utilize it to their advantage. They were able to take it down the field and score on long drives. Most importantly, they kept a dangerous Tar Heel offense from having too many opportunities.
It was a tale of two quarterbacks. Greyson Lambert may have got the start, but Jacob Eason is the one who got Georgia’s offense going. Lambert struggled early, playing reserved and taking far too long to make decisions. The offensive line also didn’t seem as in sync with Lambert.
It was a different story when Eason took over. The offense ran much smoother, and the line played better. Eason went 8-12 for 131 yards and one TD. Those numbers might seem pedestrian, but when you have a stable of backs like Georgia, that’s all you need. Eason was more confident after throwing a 51-yard pass to Isaiah McKenzie, his longest of the night. However, it seems that Georgia still hasn’t really decided who is going to get the starting position for quarterback.
Running Backs: A+
Nick Chubb and Brian Herrien both put on a performance. Chubb was back to his pre-injury form, carrying 32 times for 222 yards and two touchdowns. Herrien, the true freshman, came in and ran the ball almost as effectively as the Heisman hopeful. He carried the ball seven times for 59 yards and one TD. He demonstrated that he is a nice complement to Chubb in the backfield. With the impending return of Sony Michel, Georgia once again has an embarrassment of riches in the backfield. Georgia certainly met expectations for the first game and the ability for them to run.
Georgia’s receiving corp had a hard task Saturday night. They were up against one of the toughest secondary units in the ACC. Isaiah McKenzie stood out with a touchdown reception from Eason. However, this is probably where Georgia struggled the most. There were several dropped passes that will make the film session a little uncomfortable. A better performance from the receivers, and this game could have gotten out of hand.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line had a decent ballgame. They were neither great nor horrible, and they allowed a sack on a couple of occasions. As is normally the case, they executed their running plan tasks better than their pass blocking assignments. They did seem to be much more confident with Eason in charge. The struggles in pass blocking is keeping this unit from a higher grade.
The defense played very well overall. They forced a North Carolina safety and made key stops in the fourth quarter. However, they did not get much pressure on the Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and they allowed over eight yards per run. They also allowed 315 total yards, much more then the previous season’s average, so there is plenty of room for improvement. Throughout the entire game, Coach Mel Tucker made significant substitutions across the defense. He would switch up guys on almost every play. They closed very strong, not allowing Carolina to score in the final quarter.
Defensive stat of the Game: The Georgia defense only allowed 156 passing yards.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line played very well for the first ballgame. Granted they did not get to the quarterback as much as they would have liked, they fought hard to get to him. Trent Thompson played a great ballgame; he made plays and was in on what seemed like every tackle. The line only allowed six rushing first downs, which is a great feat. This is far from perfect, but the line played well. The fact that he trusted every D-line guy he had to play really says something.
The linebackers really seemed to have it together. Granted there were a few drives here and there where Carolina would break through, overall they did okay. There was a lot of room for improvement. Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy did not have their best game. There were a few key tackles missed by the linebackers which caused long runs for Carolina. Heading into next weekend, they will need to work on wrapping up and closing on tackles.
Defensive backs: B+
The secondary looked really solid against some tough receivers. Recent graduate transfer Maurice Smith really made a statement during yesterday’s game. He broke up two key passes that could have ended badly for the Bulldogs. Smith was everywhere, and he was in every series for the defense. Roquan Smith was another that stood out. Smith made plays and recorded five solo tackles. The defensive backs really stepped up for this game, and it showed. But there is always room for improvement.
Special Teams: C
The special teams struggled in this game, and the negatives really outweighed the positives for them. Shane Beamer‘s first game as coordinator did not get off to a good start. This was probably the weakest area for Georgia, which was a concern going into this game to begin with. They allowed Carolina to return a kickoff for a touchdown. They received an unsportsmanlike penalty by Malkom Parrish, a senior who should have known better. The one positive note was how freshmen punter Marshall Long, kicking four times with an average of 39 yards.
The fact that Coach Kirby Smart received his first W of the season deserves the grade A. He coached an overall impressive game with minor mistakes here and there. Georgia may have started out the game slow, but they finished the game really strong. The fact that Smart is bringing along a true freshmen quarterback, developing a young defense, and still manages to give a winning performance speaks wonders. The amount of substitutes the team made takes a lot of skill. Coach Smart and his staff appeared to get stronger and better as the game went on.