ATHENS – In the final minutes, it looked like Georgia football. Running the ball. Moving the chains. Running it again. Closing it out.
“That was about it,” tailback Nick Chubb said. “The only time we played Georgia football.”
The rest of the game, Georgia’s blocking was close to a disaster.
Against a Nicholls State defense that should have been overmatched, no matter how many reality television stars it had, Georgia averaged just 4.3 yards per carry. Seven times a Georgia player was tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Chubb, for the first time at Georgia, was held under 100 yards in a game he started and finished.
“Maybe y’all will leave me alone after that,” Chubb said, smiling.
But Georgia’s blocking isn’t a laughing matter, not with the SEC gauntlet – road trips to Missouri and Ole Miss, hosting Tennessee – coming up.
Nicholls State, which only won three games last season, did bolster its line this year with Ronald Ollie and Marcel Andry, who starred in the Netflix Documentary “Last Chance U,” about a Mississippi junior college team. Ollie had four tackles Saturday and Andry had two.
But Georgia coach Kirby Smart didn’t play that up when assessing what went wrong.
“(North Carolina) had dominant inside guys. These guys, they didn’t have dominant inside guys, they just whipped us,” Smart said. “They out-fought us. They played harder than we did. And we’re not a big, massive offensive line that can push you around all the time. We’re gonna have to find some ways to run the ball, I can tell you that, because we won’t be able to run the ball in this league.”
Left tackle Tyler Catalina, a senior graduate transfer, left the game in the first half. He was replaced by Dyshon Sims, who went in at left guard, shifting Isaiah Wynn to left tackle. But Sims was subsequently called for a holding penalty after getting beaten on a pass play.
Smart, asked afterward what can be done, acknowledged that it will come down to the guys they have now just blocking better.
“We can’t change guys out. We’ve got no free agency. We’ve got no cuts,” Smart said. “So we have to take what we’ve got, and we’ve got to get those guys better. They’ve got to play better.”
Georgia had hoped to use the game to get some young linemen experience, including true freshman Solomon Kindley, whose been running second team at left guard, or redshirt sophomore Kendall Baker, whose been running second team at the tackle spots.
“We obviously got some younger O-linemen and some other guys that we’ve got to continue to develop, and see if they can pass some of those other guys up. But right now that’s not the case,” Smart said. “It’s not the six guys that played. It’s how they played. And that’s what I’m concerned with. How do we get them to play better.”
(No offensive linemen were available to the media after the game. Catalina was heavily requested, but Smart isn’t letting him speak to the media yet. Other offensive linemen were also requested, but not enough that they were on the list given to Smart for postgame approval. The end result was only Smart and Chubb available to speak about the blocking.)
But the offensive line wasn’t the only one to blame. Georgia didn’t much blocking on the perimeter, which Smart pinned on the receivers, and it’s not the first time he’s called them out for run blocking.
“We’ve got some receivers that are not willing to go block in the run game,” Smart said. “And it will be pointed out, and made a point to them, that you’re not going to be able to catch the ball if you don’t block in the running game. That’s way too important to us to be an effective football team.”