The big statistic that mattered most in Georgia’s season opener here Saturday night was the Bulldogs 33, North Carolina 24.
And the next statistic that mattered the most was 222. That’s the staggering amount of rushing yards rolled up by one Nick Chubb, who showed the record crowd of 75,000 plus in the Georgia Dome that he has no lingering effects from the horrific knee injury he sustained last October against the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville. Carrying the ball a whopping 32 times, Chubb tallied two touchdowns with his final score, a 55-yard run down the right sideline with just over three minutes remaining, effectively applying the knockout punch to the 22nd-ranked Tar Heels.
When one considers that the junior tailback hasn’t been on a collegiate playing field in nearly a year, Chubb’s comeback performance is all the more amazing and all his rushing total did was set a new Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game record.
But Chubb had plenty of help from a Georgia team that led the Tar Heels by 14-10 at the halftime break, fell behind by 10, 24¬14, in the third quarter and then regrouped and blanked North Carolina the rest of the way while ringing up 19 unanswered points down the stretch … two of those points coming when sophomore linebacker Roquan Smith trapped UNC tailback Elijah Hood in his own end zone for a safety. That defensive gem came with just 48 seconds left in the third quarter and pulled the Bulldogs within 24-23. Freshman place-kicker William Ham’s 29-yard field goal with 5:27 left then lifted Georgia up for good at 26-24, followed by Chubb’s 55-yard clincher with only 3:34 to play.
As always, as we look at the STATS THAT MATTER, one can readily see why it was Georgia, not North Carolina that left the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at 1-0 going into week No. 2 of this new season.
PLAYS OF 20 PLUS YARDS, OFFENSE AND DEFENSE
There was a 25-yard pass from Greyson Lambert to Isaiah McKenzie on Georgia’s first-quarter scoring drive. Chubb had a 22- yard run on that same drive and Jacob Eason’s first pass as a college quarterback was a quick throw-out to Terry Godwin, who scampered 23 yards with it. Eason, making a fine collegiate debut at QB in relief of Lambert, came back with a 51-yard deep strike to McKenzie in the second half and then there was Chubb’s scintillating 55-yard touchdown dash, a score that put the game away for the Bulldogs at 32-24 before Ham’s final PAT kick.
For the Tar Heels, T.J. Logan had a 35-yard dash on Carolina’s first TD march and tailback Elijah Hood sped 31 yards on a second-quarter run. Then the cat-quick Logan hauled Georgia’s second half kickoff back 95 yards for a touchdown to ignite the North Carolina faithful. The Bulldogs’ defense gave up two more plays of 20-plus yards, one coming on a 21-yard run by Logan and the other a 23-yard pass from Mitch Trubisky to Ryan Switzer.
UNTIMELY MISTAKES (TURNOVERS, PENALTIES, CLOCK MANAGEMENT MISCUES, ETC.)
Brendan Douglas had a costly fumble after a 14-yard run to the Carolina 12. A personal foul penalty on a Georgia punt, when the Bulldogs’ Malkom Parrish hit Ryan Switzer on a fair catch, ignited the Tar Heels’ field goal drive in the waning seconds of the first half. Georgia offensive tackles Tyler Catalina and Greg Pyke both cost the team 15-yard penalties at inopportune times.
SPECIAL TEAMS WINS VS. MISCUES
Ham misfired on a 42-yard field goal attempt in the first half but atoned himself with his 29-yard kick, the actual game-winner, with just 5:27 remaining in the football game.
The Georgia punt coverage unit kept North Carolina’s record-breaking returner, Ryan Switzer, bottled up for the most part; however, the Bulldogs’ kick coverage team allowed the speedy TJ. Logan to return the second-half kickoff the length of the field to give the Tar Heels new life and set the spark for North Carolina putting Georgia into a 24-14 third quarter hole.
For the most part, the Georgia defenders locked up on the Carolina running backs and receivers but did whiff on some hits on the powerful running Elijah Hood and the Heels’ other elusive back, T. J. Logan. But all in all against a most-explosive attack, it was a good first night for Mel Tucker’s defensive unit.
YARDS AFTER CONTACT
All you can say here is that Nick Chubb hardly ever went down on the first hit, as evidenced by his banner rushing night. And both freshman Brian Herrien and senior Brendan Douglas also pulled away from would-be Tar Heel tacklers on several of their runs.
The Bulldogs fumbled once, by Douglas, and lost the ball at the Carolina 12-yard line. North Carolina didn’t lose any fumbles. And neither Lambert nor Eason threw an interception.
RED ZONE (OFFENSE/DEFENSE)
Georgia was a perfect 4-of-4 scoring after reaching the red zone and got touchdowns on three of those trips inside the Carolina 20. Carolina was also a perfect 2-of-2 scoring inside the red zone.
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
The Bulldogs converted 7 of their 14 third down opportunities while North Carolina had five-of-13 third down conversions.
RUN/PASS ATTEMPTS (TOTAL PLAYS)
The Bulldogs, led by Chubb’s record night, ran the ball 52 times for their 289 rushing total. Eason (8 of 12, 131 yards) and Lambert (5-of- 8, 54) combined to complete 13-of-20 passing attempts for 185 total yards.