There may have been uncertainty, even apprehension, in the fanbase in the minutes before the kickoff Saturday evening, but the players and coaches seemed as focused and determined as a sniper with a high-value target in his sights. From the time that the doors inside the Georgia World Congress Center swung open, and the Bulldogs strode into a sea of red and black clad fans, even the most casual observer could immediately see the team was totally focused for a high-stakes business trip to Atlanta.
The media entrance to the field at the Dome was the same tunnel used by UGA. I happened to be inside the tunnel as the team left its dressing room for warm-ups. Gone were the wildly exaggerated antics that we have often seen in the past (some might call that fake juice). Instead, as I tried to convey in my comment above, it was a serious moment. The verbalizations were more personal expressions of readiness than obligatory histrionics. This was backstage. This was real. This team was emotionally ready to play.
There are still questions about the decision to replace Mark Richt. During the first half, a photographer commented to me, “I don’t see the upgrade from Richt.” Maybe he changed his mind by the end of the game, but I suspect it will take more than an opening win over North Carolina to convert the skeptical.
Georgia’s bench was into the game. Too often players who have little or no chance of playing do not get into the spirit of the game. That certainly was not the case Saturday. The bench was energized and actively rooting for their teammates.
When Chubb has that early 10+ yard gain on the left side of the formation (with GREAT blocking), the bench erupted. The demonstration showed support both for Chubb and the offensive line that rolled back UNC’s defensive line on the play.
Georgia fans reacted as expected when Jacob Eason entered the game with just over thirteen minutes remaining in the second quarter, but Eason himself gave no indication of excitement or first-game jitters.
I watched the young quarterback warm-up on the sideline just before his debut. It was as though he was playing catch with a friend in his backyard. No hopping up and down, no unnecessary motion, no show of emotion at all — just another day at the office. Eason was as cool as they come and clearly ready for his first shot.
It can get really loud on the field in the Dome. As Georgia was mounting its second-half comeback from a double-digit deficit, as series of play occurred that demonstrated just how loud Georgia fans could be. The noise level began to escalate when North Carolina was penalized for having an ineligible receiver downfield. Larry Fedora, UNC’s head coach, protested the call so vehemently that he drew an unsportsman-like conduct penalty — the noise increased. On the next play, the Dawgs caught North Carolina’s receiver in the endzone for a safety. The place exploded. In fact, I was told that the decibel level reached 111 after that play. By the way, it was DaQuon Hawkins-Muckle who put the heat on the UNC quarterback on that play. That pressure probably prevented North Carolina’s heady quarterback from considering the option to throw the ball into the stands. Those two-points were huge.
Georgia stuck with the run-oriented game plan, got Eason some battle experience and came away with a ‘W’. Georgia’s staff made the Smart moves Saturday night.