If North Carolina was hoping to get some indication of how much its run defense may have improved since the late-season collapse a year ago, the Tar Heels couldn't have asked for any better measure than what they figure to get when they take on Georgia Saturday in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in the Georgia Dome.
Coach Kirby Smart has pronounced the 18th-ranked Bulldogs' star running back, Nick Chubb, recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him at midseason last year and ready for the opener against the No. 22 Tar Heels (ESPN, 5:30 p.m. ET).
"We feel good about Nick," Smart said. "He feels great is ready to go. He won't be on a pitch count by any means."
Chubb has rushed for nearly 2,300 yards in just 14 career starts over the last two seasons and will be an immediate challenge for North Carolina. The Tar Heels defense gave up 319 yards on the ground in their loss to Clemson in the ACC title game and a whopping 645 to Baylor in their bowl loss.
"I definitely think that's something that teams are going to test us on, because of how we played in the Baylor game, and some of the games we had last year where running backs were able to get leaky yardage," junior linebacker Cayson Collins said, "leaky yardage" being defensive coordinator Gene Chizik's term for yards after contact. "We had that a lot last year, so that's something we want to cut back on."
North Carolina will be starting a new quarterback when junior Mitch Trubisky takes over for Marquise Williams after serving as Williams' backup the last two years, but Smart played it coy until Thursday.
Senior Greyson Lambert, who started off-and-on last season, edged highly-touted freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. Media reports had indicated Eason was the favorite, but Smart stood firm through camp that there was no favorite.
Lambert threw 12 interceptions with two interceptions last season, but struggled against quality competition. The Georgia faithful are eager to see Eason, who was one of the top pro-style quarterback recruits in the 2016 recruiting class.
Smart said early in fall camp that two quarterbacks could play effectively.
The former Nick Saban assistant also followed Saban's lead in selecting experience over hype in a high-profile opening game.