It was a Kirby Smart win for Georgia and a not-so smart loss for North Carolina.
For the second straight year, North Carolina, the defending ACC Coastal champion, showed it wasn’t ready to open the season against an SEC East opponent.
Last year it was a bad South Carolina team that edged the Tar Heels, 17-13. This year Georgia came from behind to beat North Carolina, 33-24, Saturday night in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.
North Carolina’s run defense – or lack of it – validated preseason polls that ranked SEC member Georgia higher than the Tar Heels of the ACC.
If you took the conference weights that favor the SEC out of the equation, No. 22 North Carolina should have been rated higher than the No. 18 Bulldogs in preseason polls.
The Tar Heels’ offense that ranked No. 9 in the nation last year with 40.9 points per game returned many of its weapons. They were led by fifth-year head coach Larry Fedora, who has his systems in place. They lined up a new starting quarterback in junior Mitch Trubisky, but he had played well when called upon in the past.
However, Trubisky, who always played well off the bench, turned out to be a slow starter (in multiple senses of the term) under center. He finished the night only 24-of-40 passing for 156 yards with no touchdowns. He ran only three times for seven yards.
Meanwhile, three gray spots clouded Georgia’s season: a new coach, Kirby Smart; a true freshman quarterback, Jacob Eason; and running back Nick Chubb returning from reconstructive knee surgery.
Chubb quickly chased the clouds away. He tipped all the scales Georgia’s way once he got loose for a 55-yard touchdown run to close out a the scoring with 3:34 to play in the game. He carried 32 times for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
North Carolina trailed 26-24 and needed the ball back when Chubb broke off his run. He went around right end virtually untouched, cut to the sideline, and was in a footrace to the end zone. He was pushed out of bounds, but he was able to nudge the pylon for the score.
Last year North Carolina gave up 247.4 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. Georgia finished with 289 yards rushing and 5.6 per carry. Chubb averaged 6.9. North Carolina’s problems remain the same as a year ago.
“I really thought our line of scrimmage was the difference in the game,” Smart told the media after the game.
Don’t consider Georgia’s questions answered. Smart, formerly Alabama’s defensive coordinator, was hired to win the big games that left Georgia fans disenchanted with Mark Richt despite a 10-3 record last year for a 146-51 mark in 15 seasons.
We won’t know how smart Georgia’s hire was until the Bulldogs play big games late in the season. A schedule ranked only the 57th toughest in the nation avoids cross-division games with SEC West members Alabama and LSU. Georgia travels Sept. 24 to Mississippi for a test. SEC East showdowns loom Oct. 1 against Tennessee at home and Oct. 29 against Florida in Jacksonville.
Then we can start measuring how smart it was to hire Kirby Smart.
What we can measure now: North Carolina didn’t measure up well enough against an SEC East team.
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055