ATHENS — Knowing his pedigree, it should come as no surprise that Kirby Smart was not, upon further review, very happy with what the Bulldogs did in Saturday’s season-opening win over North Carolina. The victory was nice, of course, but he said the execution left a great deal to be desired.
“I’ve heard the mantra that it’s never as good as it seems and it’s never as bad as it seems. There’s nowhere that’s more evident than that (game) tape,” Smart said during Georgia’s weekly news conference Monday. “You went to sleep thinking you played well. (Then) you watch the tape and you’re sick to your stomach because there are so many things we did wrong that we need to improve on. The good thing is we get to show the kids that.”
This is where Georgia’s schedule sets up ideally for early-season improvement. The No. 18 Bulldogs are coming off a hard-fought 33-24 win over No. 22 North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game. This second game comes against Nicholls State – or just Nicholls, as they prefer to be called now – an FCS opponent that competes in the Southland Conference.
The theory is that the Colonels will be overmatched and the Bulldogs will be able to iron out their deficiencies from Week 1 and fine tune for Week 3, which will be their SEC road opener against Missouri.
Smart would never admit Georgia is attempting to do anything but win the next game. But he did say there are a ton a deficiencies to be addressed, “everywhere.”
“It didn’t matter if it was running back protections, O-line protections, (being) more physical at the point of attack, ID’ing the ‘Mike’ (linebacker), defensive line running to the ball, pass rush, secondary leveraging the ball, linebackers keying things properly, punters kicking the ball where they’re supposed to kick it,” Smart ranted. “It really didn’t matter. We’ve all got a lot of improving to do.”
Not to be lost in its season-opening win is the fact that Georgia trailed North Carolina by 10 late in third third quarter, was aided by some opportune penalties, and was clinging to a slim lead before Nick Chubb made it all a moot point with a 55-yard TD run in the final minutes of the game.
Meanwhile, there is the evidence of the struggles and — in some cases, actual losses – that other SEC teams had this past weekend against opponents that supposedly were going to be overmatched. Eastern Division-favorite Tennessee had to rally to beat Appalachian State in overtime and Mississippi State lost at home to South Alabama.
“We have to respect every opponent. I feel like there is such a small separation between the Power 5 and every team,” junior tight end Jeb Blazevich said Monday. “Every team has playmakers and any team can win on any field on any Saturday. I think last weekend showed that. So what we need to do is focus on us. We need to focus on: If we play our best, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’re just going to focus on being our best.”
It appears that Georgia should be almost at its best physically. Offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn and and outside linebacker Chuks Amaechi, each of whom had to leave Saturday’s game with ankle injuries, were back for practice and participating in regular jerseys. Tailback Elijah Holyfield (ankle) also practiced without contact limitations Monday. He did not play Saturday after missing several practices toward the end of camp.
Only tailback Sony Michel looks doubtful at this point. The junior tailback, who broke his arm in an ATV accident July 3, remains in a black, non-contact jersey and still has not been cleared to play.
“It’ll be up to the doctors and when they clear him,” Smart said. “When they clear him he’ll be able to play.”
There was no news to convey regarding Georgia’s much-discussed quarterback competition. Senior Greyson Lambert and freshman Jacob Eason continued to split first-team offense reps in practice and are battling for the right to start the home opener. But all indications are both will play.
Eason completed 8 of 12 passes for 131 yards and was credited with a TD pass off a jet-sweep forward toss. Lambert was 5-of-8 for 54 yards.
“We’re going to continue to rep both of those guys, give those guys a lot of work, and make a decision as to what we’re going to do, whether it’s later in the week or game time,” Smart said Monday. “Both those guys will continue to work. That’s the most important thing that they can continue to grow and get better and develop so that our offense can grow and develop and get better.”
On defense, the Bulldogs will prepare for a very different sort of offense this week. The Colonels use the option to run the football, often with their quarterback Tuskani Figaro, who has seven 100-or-more-yard games.
Coordinator Mel Tucker’s unit held the Tar Heels vaunted, fast-ball offense to just 315 total yards and 17 points below last season’s scoring average. But there is still much improvement to be made.
“We feel like we played pretty well,” junior outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. “We played with high intensity and did pretty much everything the coaches asked us. That’s all you can do.”