The Kirby Smart era gets underway Saturday afternoon at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta when the Bulldogs square off against North Carolina. It is an intriguing matchup for both teams. Georgia has a new coaching staff but returns enough players that they may not look that much different in 2016. North Carolina finally broke through last season and wants to prove that was no fluke with a new signal caller for this season.
Here is a look at some of the key players for Saturday’s game:
I know what you are thinking. Chubb could be a key player for the Bulldogs every game this season but his spot on this list is warranted due to it being his first action since suffering a season-ending knee injury during last season’s Tennessee game. Chubb is reportedly 100 percent and news came this week that he won’t be facing any sort of workload restriction.
That is good news for the Bulldogs and bad news for a Tar Heels’ defense that struggled at times in 2015. Gene Chizik’s squad returns a number of starters from last season’s defense, but a healthy Chubb will put them to the test quickly.
Chubb’s return for Georgia was critical especially given that it appears Sony Michel is unlikely to play in the game. With questions at the quarterback position, Chubb gives the Bulldogs a big bullet in the chamber.
Jacob Eason/Grayson Lambert
As good as Chubb is, Georgia is going to need whoever its starting quarterback is to make some plays down the field. New offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has had a lot of success adapting to his personnel. There isn’t a lot of experience in the wide receiver group but there is tons of playmaking potential there. Chubb’s presence alone will give Georgia’s quarterbacks and receivers opportunities to make plays and the Bulldogs need to capitalize on them.
Mitch Trubisky steps in for graduated starter Marquise Williams and hopes that the Tar Heels’ offense won’t miss a beat. He performed really well in mop up duty a year ago but faces a stiff challenge in what should be a good Georgia defense.
Carolina returns a boatload of talent at running back and receiver. It will be up to Trubisky to get the ball to the right people at the correct times.
Elijah Hood is perhaps the guy that no one seems to be talking about that everyone should be heading into this game. He rushed for over 1400 yards last season averaging 6.7 yards per carry and piled up 17 touchdowns on the ground. Hood was really in elite company according to SB Nation’s Bill Connelly as far as 2015 running backs go:
Of the 53 players who rushed at least 200 times in 2015, only two combined an opportunity rate of at least 46 percent with an explosiveness average of at least 6 highlight yards per opportunity: Hood and Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott. That's awfully good company to keep.
Georgia’s defensive line is a question mark entering the season. It is a group that is long on talent but one that is short on experience. There was also a bit of turnover at the linebacker position, but there is enough depth that it shouldn’t be as big a concern.
Having Hood gives North Carolina the luxury of protecting Trubisky to an extent. If the Bulldogs can limit Hood’s effectiveness, then they may be able to put Trubisky to the test early and often.