ATHENS, Ga. — Ninth-ranked Georgia, a whopping 53-point favorite, narrowly escaped suffering what would have been arguably the biggest upset in the history of college football by defeating Nicholls this afternoon, 26-24.

“It’s important that we understand that our football team has got to get better,” Bulldogs’ head coach Kirby Smart said. “It’s frustrating. A lot of guys didn’t execute, didn’t play well, and that’s my responsibility. … I’m disappointed we didn’t go out and execute.”

Against the Colonels of the lower-tiered FCS, the Bulldogs did execute—early, that is, jumping ahead 7-0 after just over two minutes of play. A 36-yard pass from true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason, making his first collegiate start, to Terry Godwin moved the Bulldogs downfield, setting up a six-yard touchdown run by Nick Chubb. A field goal by Georgia’s William Ham brought it to 10-0 in the second quarter before Nicholls capitalized on a Bulldog fumble for a 10-7 score at the half.

Out of the locker room, the Georgia defense forced a Nicholls punt, getting the offense on the field for another field goal and a 13-7 advantage. The Colonels reversed the lead, as a Chase Fourcade 20-yard pass to Jarrell Rogers put the visitors ahead 14-13 with 6:48 remaining in the third quarter.

After Nicholls went ahead, Georgia’s Isaiah McKenzie caught a 66-yard touchdown from Eason, giving Georgia back the lead for good. McKenzie finished the game with 142 all-purpose yards. Eason completed 11 of 20 passes for 204 yards. Nick Chubb led the Bulldogs’ rushing corps with 80 yards, while Brian Herrien followed with 47.

Two plays following the Eason-to-McKenzie touchdown, Aaron Davis forced a Nicholls fumble, as Lorenzo Carter returned it 24 yards for a touchdown, giving Georgia a 26-14 advantage. Defensively, the Bulldogs were led by Trenton Thompson, who totaled 11 tackles, including five solo stops and three tackles for loss. Reggie Carter totaled seven tackles in his first appearance since the second of last season after sitting out most of last year with an injury. Interceptions by Dominick Sanders and Juwan Briscoe accounted for two of Nicholls’ three turnovers.

Still, the upset-minded Colonels essentially owned the final quarter. Jeff Hall intercepted an Eason pass at the Nicholls’ two, returning it 91 yards, leading to a field goal with 7:50 left to play in the contest. Nicholls continued to chip away at the Georgia lead, as a muffed punt by the Bulldogs turned into a C.J. Bates score, and reduced Georgia’s lead by two points. However, crucial runs by Chubb in the final minutes helped the Bulldogs barely escape what would have been a devastating loss.

“We’ve got to perform better,” Smart declared afterwards. “We didn’t perform the way we should have. It’s in the books, and we have to move on. [The team has] to understand we need to practice really good to play really good. We need to practice this week with efficiency.”