ATHENS — They’re still Georgia.
They’re still sooooo Georgia.
Their ranking said ninth. Their performance said Liberty Bowl.
You want to obsess over some dazzling freshman quarterback and cling to fantasy that it will easy to turn this program into something greater than what it has been? Have at it. But when a team like Georgia is projected to win by seven touchdowns over an opponent that was hand-picked from college football’s Book of Schleps, yet is fortunate to stumble over the finish line with a victory, it reaffirms the problems run deep.
“There was a concern for me when the rankings came out,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Saturday. “We spoke at wits end about not letting a victory, which we were fortunate to get last week, (affect us). We couldn’t let somebody moving us up in rankings go to our head. Because to be honest with you, that’s what’s been done before.”
Georgia barely hung on to beat Nicholls State 26-24.
That’s faceless, nameless, presumed hopeless Nicholls.
There’s no way to spin this. Nicholls was the worst opponent to walk into Sanford Stadium in decades. It was paid $525,000 to come here and take a beating. Georgia was favored by 49 to 55 1/2 points, depending on what Las Vegas sportsbook had the best sense of humor.
Nicholls isn’t merely an FCS team — it’s an FCS team that lost last season to Louisiana-Monroe 47-0, to McNeese State 37-7, to Sam Houston 37-7, to Colorado 48-0. It’s mediocre by Southland Conference standards.
Nicholls lives to be as good as Lamar.
The Bulldogs won by two points. They would’ve won by three, but Smart tried to chase points in the third quarter with a two-point conversion and it almost cost him. The biggest problem? That this game was even so close that it turned a failed two-point conversion a topic of conversation.
Georgia was losing in the third quarter to Nicholls. And you want them to be Alabama? This isn’t about the quarterback. It’s about a mindset and resolve that’s not nearly there yet.
“Very disappointing performance,” Smart said.
This was his first game as head coach in Sanford Stadium. By comparison, Mark Richt’s final home game as coach last season, a 23-17 overtime escape over Georgia Southern, was a symphony.
The Bulldogs couldn’t block. The Bulldogs couldn’t run. The Bulldogs couldn’t put away a team that most people couldn’t even place in its correct state.
Ever watch dreams of an SEC East Division title, a conference title, a national playoff berth and a Heisman Trophy simultaneously and spontaneously combust?
Nick Chubb rushed for 222 yards, a 6.9 average and two touchdowns vs. North Carolina. He had 80 yards, one score, a 4.0 average and a fumble vs. Nicholls.
There goes North Carolina’s Q rating.
Jacob Eason, in his first start, played OK but certainly wasn’t impressive enough to close the quarterback debate. He drove the offense to a touchdown on the opening possession but then suffered through an afternoon of hiccups.
“Not great command out of the huddle, not great timing out of the huddle. But he made some good throws,” Smart said.
Eason played most of the game. But Smart had such little confidence in the freshman’s ability to run the offense at the end that he put in Greyson Lambert for Georgia’s final two possessions. It was Lambert who probably saved the victory with a 9-yard completion to Michael Chigbu on a frantic third-and-7 from the Georgia 10-yard-line with less than three minutes remaining.
The Dogs followed the script early. They drove 67 yards in five plays for a touchdown, Eason completed his first two pass attempts for 12 and 36 yards and Chubb ran it in from the six. The rout was on.
Until it wasn’t.
Except for a 90-yard field-goal drive that stalled after a first down at the Nicholls 13, the Dogs’ offense netted 22 yards and two first downs on five other possessions.
They led only 10-7 at halftime. Fans didn’t take it well. They didn’t all-out boo, but there was audible grumbling, or indigestion. More like 70,000 people with acid reflux.
Georgia let an overmatched opponent hang around and before you know it, that overmatched opponent led 14-13 following a 20-yard touchdown pass midway through the third quarter.
“Sometimes the other team comes with their best effort,” wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie said.
But it’s fair to say your team didn’t play with that effort?
“Yes. We have to do a lot of improving,” he said.
McKenzie gave Georgia the lead back with a reception over the middle that he busted for a 66-yard touchdown. The Dogs built their lead to 26-14, then almost blew it again.
This should’ve been easy. Georgia was playing a punchline. Then it morphed into the punchline. This is going to take a while.
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