ATLANTA (AP) — Nick Chubb rushed for 222 yards in his return from a gruesome knee injury, including a 55-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter that clinched No. 18 Georgia’s 33-24 victory over No. 22 North Carolina in Kirby Smart’s debut as the Bulldogs’ coach Saturday night.
Chubb scored a pair of touchdowns for Georgia (1-0), sending the largely red-clad crowd at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game into delirium when he broke loose down the right sideline with 3:34 remaining and the Bulldogs clinging to a two-point lead over the Tar Heels (0-1).
Leaving no doubt he was fully recovered from a horrific knee injury that looked like it might be career-threatening, Chubb carried a staggering 32 times and was every bit as dominating as the Heisman-touted back he was before.
Georgia also got some promising play from freshman quarterback Jacob Eason, who didn’t start but was on the field as the Bulldogs rallied from a 24-14 deficit in the second half.
North Carolina ripped off 17 straight points, including a pair of touchdowns by T.J. Logan that included a 95-yard kickoff return to start the second half.
But a pair of pass interference penalties on freshman cornerback Patrice Rene set up a touchdown that got Georgia back in the game, and two more penalties – one an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on coach Larry Fedora – backed the Tar Heels up deep in their own territory, leading to a safety when Elijah Hood caught a short pass in the end zone and was quickly knocked down for a safety.
Fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert started at quarterback for Georgia, but Eason – a touted freshman Georgia fans were clamoring to see – hooked up with Isaiah McKenzie on a 51-yard pass that set up William Ham’s go-ahead, 29-yard field goal with 5:27 remaining.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels were eager for a signature win over a major-conference foe, but too many silly mistakes – and some questionable calls – went against them. Despite 11 wins a year ago, they have yet to show they are ready to challenge Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Georgia: The play of Chubb and Eason gives the Bulldogs plenty of reason to feel hopeful about contending in the Southeastern Conference East, especially after a shaky showing by favored Tennessee in its season opener. Smart rotated quarterbacks in Week 1, but there will likely come a time in the not-too-distant future when the job belongs solely to Eason.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels hit the road again next Saturday to face Big Ten school Illinois. It will be their first visit to Champaign since 1971. North Carolina leads the series 3-0, including last year’s 48-14 rout in Chapel Hill.
Georgia: The Bulldogs take big step down in competition when they host FCS school Nicholls State between the hedges. After a tough opener, it should provide a chance for give some playing time to those further down the depth chart.