It wasn’t easy, but a patient offensive game plan and a solid defensive performance helped Georgia outlast Texas Christian to win the Liberty Bowl 31-23.
Nick Chubb had the day we all wanted him to have all season, getting stronger as the day went on and finishing with 142 yards on 17 carries. Chubb went over the 3000 yard mark for his UGA career and passed Todd Gurley for second on the all-time UGA rushing list. It remains pretty unlikely that he’ll pass the Goalline Stalker for the top spot on the list, even with a fourth season to do so. But the big man from Cedartown could become only the second Bulldog to rush for 4000 yards in a season.
It helped that the Georgia offensive line managed to wear down a TCU defensive front that averages around 270 pounds, significantly smaller than some of the lines that stuffed them in 2016. The ‘Dawgs rushed for 248 yards on the day, which sounds like a great effort. But it’s telling that 199 of those came in the second half, 70 of them on the 9 play drive for Georgia’s final score during which the ball never went into the air. It’s a cliché, sure. But the team that runs the ball best usually wins. That was definitely true this afternoon in Memphis.
Jacob Eason did what needed to be done, not losing the game against a swarming Horned Frog defense. 12 of 21 passing for 164 yards likewise looks like a solid stat line, though of course 110 of them came on first half touchdown passes to Isaiah McKenzie and Sony Michel. But other than one fumble in the first half Eason stayed out of trouble, and kept Georgia in it long enough for that running game to kick in.
The Bulldog defense that bowed up repeatedly late in the season kept the streak going, with Trenton Thompson earning MVP honors with a three sack performance. Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter both pursued to the ball and arrived there in a bad mood all day. This defense loses relatively little, and almost no one up front in 2017. I hope you're as excited about that as I am.
Were there some dumb penalties? Sure.
Could Georgia have done a better job of containing TCU quarterback Kenny Hill? Probably.
But Georgia played a full football game, didn’t show up looking sorry for itself because it wasn’t in a marquee bowl matchup, and was the more physical team on both sides of the ball. That’s it. That’s how you win bowl games. “We challenged them to work for the future in this game“ Kirby Smart confided in the postgame locker room. I’d say that mission was accomplished.
Now the ‘Dawgs shift their attention to getting bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter during the offseason. The coaches will go full bore into recruiting. As Coach Smart noted after the game, Georgia was going to have to improve in the same areas this offseason and focus on the same priorities whether it won this game or not.
But, Smart also conceded, “this sure as hell makes it easier to do.” Until later . . .