A few days before Georgia’s game against TCU, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney allowed that Georgia’s offense hadn’t been a strength of the team this year,a conclusion most everyone else had reached long ago.
Chaney also said he was “reflecting” on what could be done better.
But, who knew that period of reflection would last until the second half of the Liberty Bowl before we actually would see any changes from the predictable two-runs-up-the-middle-followed-by-a-third-and-long-pass regimen Chaney stubbornly had maintained?
Well, OK, maybe Mike Mills of R.E.M. might have guessed that would be the case.
And, alright, most of the UGA fan Twitterverse could have predicted Georgia’s offense would come out against TCU looking every bit as ineffective as it looked much of this season. And, yes, I admit I also was skeptical we’d see much different from the Georgia offense as long as Chaney is calling the plays.
Thankfully, though, the bowl game was a tale of two (very different) halves for Chaney’s troops.
Of course, it’s not like the Dawgs’ offense was exactly reinvented after putting up miserable numbers against the Horned Frogs in the first half.
But, there finally were some adjustments, and they seemed to pay off. It was still the same basic pro-style offense, but Chaney did spread it out a bit more and Jacob Eason was playing less under center (where he’s never really gotten comfortable).
We saw a lot of Eason and his tailbacks in the “pistol” formation, which seemed to give Nick Chubb and Sony Michel the head of steam they needed to hit the holes that Georgia’s much maligned offensive line finally began to open as the smaller TCU defensive front grew visibly tired, and the Dawgs improved their perimeter blocking to open up the outside.
The turnaround was enough to win the game, but still couldn’t erase the overall bad impression made by the first half, which served as a sort of sampler of many of the problems that consistently plagued the Dawgs in 2016:
Besides the predictable play-calling and subpar play by the offensive line, resulting in the Georgia ground game being limited to 49 yards on 18 carries, the first half saw the same old poor red-zone defense, the Dawgs’ defensive staff having a hard time dealing with an uptempo offense, and poor clock management by Kirby Smart and his staff.
Georgia kept trying to run subs in and out despite the Frogs’ hurry-up style and ended up drawing a flag for too many players and burning a couple of timeouts to get the defense set. Smart also unwisely used his challenge early in the game on a call that pretty clearly was correct, which meant that, later in the game, when there were bad spots resulting in a first down for TCU’s Kenny Hill and denying one to Eason, Smart had no recourse.
Speaking of bad officiating, there was a lot of it, but Georgia also benefited from that, since the Dawgs’ defense could have been called several more times for too many men on the field but wasn’t.
Making up for the poor start Georgia’s offense got were a number of superlative individual efforts. Michel had two touchdowns, one of which came on a pass reception where he broke tackles and showed great moves. Chubb took a while to get rolling, but came on strong in the fourth quarter and wound up with 142 yards rushing, including a 13-yard touchdown to cap a 9-play, 70-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ate up more than 5 minutes of clock.
Overall, Eason didn’t play that well, looking unsettled a lot of the game, throwing into double coverage while ignoring open receivers and wildly missing on some passes he should have completed. But, he made a couple of nice runs, kept his cool in the second half, and his scrambling set up the Dawgs’ first score, another of those Human Joystick runs after the catch by Isaiah McKenzie, who will be missed next year.
On defense, Liberty Bowl MVP Trenton Thompson looked like the elite player he was expected to be, racking up three sacks (Georgia had five overall). Particularly impressive was a play where Thompson chased down Hill, showing surprising speed. Georgia also had two takeaways when Lorenzo Carter forced fumbles by stripping the ball, and Roquan Smith was seemingly everywhere, leading the team with 13 tackles. TCU was held to just one scoring drive on its last seven possessions.
The Dawgs’ special teams didn’t have a great day, with Rod Blankenship making one key field goal but having another blocked, and Georgia having trouble covering kickoff returns. But they avoided any outright disasters.
Even the UGA coaching staff had its moments, with a nicely orchestrated fake field goal that saw punter-backup QB Brice Ramsey replace Eason as the usual holder and run 11 yards for a first down that set up a touchdown pass by Eason that featured a neat fake toss sweep that completely fooled the TCU defense.
The best takeaway from the game for UGA fans: The Dawgs managed to overcome adversity (some of it self-inflicted) and finished strong, with the kind of team performance that bodes well for next season, as all the stars except McKenzie say they’re coming back.
Despite the fact that the Frogs weren’t exactly a top-notch opponent, finishing the year 6-7, the way Georgia came back to wrap up its first season under Smart with a bowl win certainly is worth celebrating.
But it’s going to take more than one half to convince me and Mike Mills that Chaney is the right man to lead Georgia’s offense to bigger wins in better bowls.
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