September 06, 2016

Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason lived up to the hype in his Georgia debut, sparking a Bulldogs' comeback in a 33-24 opening victory over North Carolina.

But coach Kirby Smart isn't quite ready to hand him the starting job when the No. 9 Bulldogs host Nicholls State at noon Saturday in Sanford Stadium in Athens.

"The quarterback plan is very similar to last week right now," Smart said as the Bulldogs began preparations for the FCS foe that will be playing its season opener.

Eason, considered by many to be the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in this year's class, is a 6-5, 235-pounder with a strong arm. He took several deep shots down the field and hooked up with speedy receiver Isaiah McKenzie on a 17-yard touchdown and a 51-yard bomb against North Carolina. He finished 8 of 12 passing for 131 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

Senior Greyson Lambert started against the Tar Heels and didn't make any devastating mistakes, but didn't make any big plays, either. Lambert, who started 12 games last season and had a 10-2 record, finished 8 of 12 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. "Both those guys will continue to work, and 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."

Nicholls State gives Smart the luxury of playing coy with his quarterback situation. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising to see third-stringer Brice Ramsey also get reps in the game.

The Colonels won only three of 11 outings last season and were shut out 47-0 by Louisiana-Monroe and 48-0 by Colorado in their only outings against FBS opponents.

Georgia paid the visiting underdog more than $500,000 to play in Athens.

"I've coached at this level, I've coached at the Division I level, it's what you do, you have to play some of the big boys, it's a necessary evil that I think all of the coaches in the conference will agree we have to do it," Nicholls State coach Tim Rebowe said. "We like to do it, it's great exposure for our program. And for some of our teammates to go out and see if they can compete at a higher level."

Two players in the program had exposure as part of the Netflix series "Last Chance U." Defensive linemen Marcel Andry and Ronald Ollie, one of the prominent players in the series, get to measure up against the Bulldogs this week after struggling to stop the run last season (5.3 yards per rush).

Nicholls State does return 18 starters from that team, including quarterback Tuskani Figaro and its entire starting defense. Figaro was 91 of 164 passing for 925 yards with six interceptions last year. He also rushed for 456 yards, making him the team's leading returning rusher.

The Bulldogs gave Smart a victory in his first game as a head coach and tailback Nick Chubb stamped himself a Heisman contender by rushing 32 times for 222 yards against North Carolina.

It was his first game back after sustaining a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee in the sixth game of the 2015 campaign. It was the third 200-yard-plus game of the junior's collegiate career.

"It felt great to finally have a chance to come out here and play as a team," Chubb said afterward. "For me, coming back out here for the first time felt amazing. I just took my mind off everything else and just played for my boys, the guys I've been with for the past couple of years.

"I felt good throughout the game. I had no idea where I was at any point in the game, as far as carries of yards. None of that matters to me. If the team calls on me, I know all of them are behind me."

The Bulldogs had 474 yards of total offense (289 on the ground) and held North Carolina to just 315, but Smart is looking for more from his team.

"It's time to get our team better, and there are a lot of areas of improvement that we need to improve on," he said. "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 more evident than that tape of that.

"You went to sleep thinking you played well, 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."

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