The only thing that would have made Kirby Smart’s home opener worse would be if Georgia lost.
And that nearly happened. Against Nicholls State.
No. 9 Georgia escaped what would have arguably been the biggest upset in NCAA football history Saturday with a 26-24 win over the visiting Colonels. The Bulldogs (2-0) played a sloppy contest throughout and had 3 turnovers that placed Nicholls State (0-1) in the red zone. Following the third turnover, a punt return fumble by Isaiah McKenzie, Nicholls State quarterback C.J. Fourcane threw a touchdown to receiver C.J. Bates to cut the game to 26-24.
Georgia then faced a third-and-7 deep in its own territory but was bailed out by quarterback Greyson Lambert, who delivered a strike to receiver Michael Chigbu by the sideline for the first down. From there, the Bulldogs were slowly able to salt the game away.
Lambert came in for Georgia’s final two series of the game in relief of Jacob Eason, who started the game and played most of the way.
Not counting last year’s game against Tennessee, when he suffered a knee injury, running back Nick Chubb failed to reach the 100-yard mark for the first time since becoming a starter against Missouri in 2014. Chubb finished the game with 80 yards and a touchdown.
FIVE WHO MATTERED
McKenzie: McKenzie had a huge 66-yard touchdown that helped give Georgia a brief cushion. But he also had a crucial fumble that allowed Nicholls State a chance at the end of the game. Still, McKenzie, over two games, has proven to be Georgia’s best offensive weapon and needs to see more of the ball.
Eason: Eason started the game and completed 11 of 20 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. He was far from spectacular, and a tipped interception returned inside the Georgia 10-yard line got Nicholls State back in the game.
Georgia defensive lineman Trent Thompson: Thompson was a defensive force for Georgia, totaling a game-high 11 tackles. Of those on Georgia’s defensive front, Thompson was the most consistent and was repeatedly in the Nicholls State backfield.
Fourcane: While his stats weren’t gaudy, Fourcane threw 2 touchdowns and did everything he could to keep the Colonels in the ball game.
Nicholls State defensive back Jeff Hall: With Georgia looking to put the game away, Hall intercepted the aforementioned tipped pass from Eason 91 yards down to the UGA 7-yard line. Hall finished the game with 6 tackles, 3 of which were solo.
Poor performance all around for Georgia: The Bulldogs will hope this is the worst game they’ll play all year. For most of the game, Nicholls State won the lines of scrimmage. A week after running the ball for 289 yards, Georgia mustered just 167 on the ground against an FCS team that went 3-8 a year ago, with most of that production coming later in the game. The defense allowed a poor offense led by a true freshman quarterback to hang around for the duration of the game.
Offensive line needs work: A group that won the line of scrimmage against North Carolina, struggled mightily against Nicholls State. Not one college football follower across the country would have predicted that if Chubb were to run the ball 20 times against an FCS opponent that he’d be held under 100 yards. A lot of this can be attributed to an offensive line that did not open up holes or win the point of attack.
Four-minute offense: With Georgia in a run-first situation to try and bleed the clock, it was Lambert who came in the game to manage the offense. While Eason got a lot of work in a starting quarterback role, it’s clear Lambert could still be called upon in tight situations when Georgia needs to operate efficiently in a given time frame.
That 2-point play: After the game, Smart said the decision to go for a 2-point conversion near the end of the third quarter was made because it was late enough in the game to do so, since it would have put the Bulldogs up by 14 points. But the decision, with the 2-point play failing, almost cost Georgia. If Georgia punted the ball on its final possession, Nicholls State would have only needed a field goal to win since the Bulldogs had a 2-point lead instead of being up by 3.
Starting quarterback not settled: While it would seem Eason should move forward as Georgia’s starting quarterback, Smart said that’s not the case after this game. Both Eason and Lambert will be evaluated again before a decision is made before the Missouri game. Since a sure-fire starter hasn’t been named, Smart said he’s keeping both quarterbacks from speaking to the media. Neither were available after Georgia’s win Saturday.
Ham bounces back after early miss: Georgia kicker William Ham just missed to the left on a 52-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter. But the third-year sophomore ended up hitting his final two attempts, one from 23 yards and another from 32 yards. Ham is now 3-of-5 kicking on field goals this season, with his misses coming from 42 and 52 yards out.
THEY SAID IT
Chubb on the running game’s problems: “Those guys played hard and they out-hit us for the entire game, almost. A lot of stuff we’ve never seen, we’ve never had tape on those guys, so coming into this game we didn’t know what to expect. But we still have to do what we are supposed to do.”
Outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter on his fumble return for a touchdown: “I was trying to get an interception but it just rolled to me so I guess I had to run it in. That was it. I was just happy to get points on the board.”
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart on the game: “It’s frustrating. A lot of guys didn’t execute, didn’t play well, and that’s my responsibility. We’ve got to improve because there are good teams down the road.”
Fourcade on facing Georgia’s defense: “In the first quarter, being a freshman facing Kirby Smart’s defense, it was a little confusing. In the second quarter, I saw a lot of two-high and cover-two man. But they mixed it up a bunch. They blitzed on the outside and they mixed it up. That was a great defense and a great team.”
Georgia will travel to Missouri next week for its SEC opener.