ATHENS — For the first time in the Kirby Smart era, some bloom came off his rose. The Georgia Bulldogs struggled mightily against Nicholls State, a supposedly over-matched FCS team on what was expected to be the majestic debut of freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. Instead, the Bulldogs — a seven-touchdown favorite by some sports books — found themselves trailing the Colonels midway through the third quarter before Isaiah McKenzie brought them back to life with a couple of big plays. Then McKenzie almost singlehandedly put Nicholls back in it with a couple of special-teams muffs. In any case, Georgia won 26-24 and left with a 2-0 record, but also left with more questions than answers.
“We didn’t play to the level of our expectations, not any Dogs fan,” Smart said afterward.
- Star of game: The Bulldogs could have been in a really bad way without McKenzie. The junior wideout and kick returner scored on a 66-yard catch-and-run to take a 20-14 lead in the third quarter. McKenzie also had a 55-yard punt return to the 14-yard line to set up a field goal on Georgia’s first possession of the second half. But then he muffed a punt return and fumbled a kickoff return out of bounds in the fourth quarter.
- Turning point: The Bulldogs had just taken the lead back when safety Aaron Davis blitzed from the left side of Nicholls State’s offense. He hit quarterback Devin Powell from behind, which sent the ball flying out to the right flat. It looked like a forward incomplete pass, but Lorenzo Carter did not hesitate in scooping up the ball and returning it 24 yards for a score. The ruling on the field stood after a review, and the Bulldogs were quickly up by 12 after trailing for just over one minute in the game.
- Questions answered: Sony Michel played. That wasn’t much of a mystery by the time kickoff arrived, but it had been in the lead-up to the game earlier in the week. And the Bulldogs wasted no time implementing the multi-dimensional back was broke both bones in his left forearm in a midsummer ATV accident. Michel caught a flare pass for an 12-yard game on Georgia’s third offensive play. But he finished with only eight total yards.
- Questions looming: The Bulldogs have some major issues on the offensive line. They didn’t look good. Perfect example: On second series, Georgia opened with a simple toss sweep left. Nick Chubb didn’t have a chance, getting shoved out of bounds for a 5-yard loss. It put the Dogs behind the sticks and ultimately led to a three-and-out. And nothing was resolved at quarterback. Even though Eason played most of the game, Lambert was in for the critical last minutes of the game and made the game’s biggest pass, a 9-yard completion on third-and-7 from Georgia’s 10.
- Statistically speaking: Nick Chubb didn’t finish with 100 yards rushing. That’s the first that has happened in his career in a game in which he started at tailback. The streak had been 14 consecutive games before Saturday. The Colonels were actually out-rushing Georgia 119 yards to 81 yards after three quarters.
- What it means: Not much. This game was about getting Eason going and working out the kinks exposed in the North Carolina contest. All that happened was the Bulldogs actually found more kinks. The going can be expected to be considerably tougher next Saturday night at Missouri.