It’s game week for the Georgia Bulldogs as they open the 2016 season against the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Heels went 11-3 last season and an appearance in the ACC Championship game. They suffered a weird loss to South Carolina to start the season, but then won 11 straight before losing to Clemson and Baylor to end the season. Larry Fedora’s team averaged 40.7 points per game last season, 9th best in the country.
At quarterback, North Carolina will start junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The 6-foot-3 220-pounder completed 40 of 49 passes last season for 55 yards and six touchdowns in a backup role. Trubisky can also make plays with his feet, rushing for 101 yards and three touchdowns. He’s an accurate passer who has the skill set to perform very well in their spread offense.
While many believe Trubiski is bound for a big year, the offense will run through running back Elijah Hood. The 6-foot 220-pound Hood was a heralded prospect in the 2014 class, and has certainly met expectations. Hood rushed for 1463 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore last season, and will look to do even better this fall. Hood is a bruising back who runs very well between the tackles. He’s a tough guy to tackle and is rarely brought down by the first guy. This guy will play on Sundays.
At receiver, the Heels are starting a veteran group of seniors in Mack Hollins (6-4 215), Ryan Switzer (5-10 185), and Bug Howard (6-5 220). Those three guy totaled 113 catches for 1,926 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Switzer in particular is a guy who can make a big play at any point, and is especially tough to deal with as a returner.
The offensive line is also a veteran group led by three seniors, junior left tackle Bentley Spain, and possibly a redshirt freshman at right guard in Tommy Hatton. This group will have a tough task handling Georgia’s pass rushers, but it would not surprise me at all to see them have success running the football against Georgia’s defensive line.
On defense, North Carolina looked pretty good last season under coordinator Gene Chizik. The Heels ranked 12th in the nation last year in passing defense efficiency led by returning starters M.J Stewart at corner and senior Dominique Green at safety. Their defense also ranked 20th in the nation in turnovers created.
On the defensive line, the two guys to be aware of are defensive end Mikey Bart and defensive tackle Nazzir Jones. Jones is a force in the middle that has great athleticism for his size. Bart is more of the speed guy at 6-3 270-pounds who find a way to get into the backfield.
While those groups seem to be in good hands for the Heels, I’m a little suspect on their linebackers. If Chubb is really at 100%, I’m expecting him to have a big day running against this defense. If the offensive line can find way to make holes as well, it won’t matter who the Bulldogs have out there running the ball. Eason will have chances to throw the ball downfield and bring that element to the Georgia offense, but this running game has a chance to have a big night.
Overall, I think this is a solid North Carolina team. They were very improved on defense last year, and have the chance to be good again statistically on defense in the ACC. They have guys who can make plays, but they should not be able to handle this Georgia offense.
On offense, they do bring in a new starter at quarterback, but he’s a guy with experience. He doesn’t have the biggest arm, but he’s accurate and fits the offensive system. They offense will go through Elijah Hood. If Georgia can handle him they win. The tall receivers will create a mismatch against the shorter Georgia defensive backs, but I think they will be alright. This secondary is experienced and should be improved from last season.
I’m expecting a slow first half, maybe a close halftime score of 14-14. The offenses will come out in the 2nd half, with the Bulldogs running away to a 41-31 victory.