The Georgia Bulldogs winding up playing TCU in the Liberty Bowl is emblematic of Kirby Smart’s first season as UGA’s head coach: Could have been worse, but isn’t what most people expected going into this season.
Playing Gary Patterson’s barely bowl-eligible 6-6 Horned Frogs in Memphis certainly is preferable to Georgia making a trip to Birmingham or Shreveport (no matter the opponent), but I’d be surprised if the UGA ticket office is swamped with inquiries for this game.
Actually, after too many bowl games in recent years against Big 10 teams, having the Dawgs facing a Big 12 opponent — something of a rarity for the Georgia program — does offer a bit of a refreshing change.
This will be the fourth time ever that the Dawgs and Frogs have met in football. Georgia beat TCU 40-26 in the 1942 Orange Bowl (Georgia’s first bowl game ) and notched fairly easy regular-season wins over the school sometimes known as Texas Christian in 1980 and 1988.
(It will be UGA’s 52nd bowl appearance, which ranks fourth nationally. Georgia’s all-time bowl record is 29-19-3, with the Dawgs ranking third nationally in number of bowl wins.)
But, let’s face it, unless they have a real hankering to visit Graceland or walk down Beale Street, most Georgia fans will see this bowl trip as the meh culmination of a meh season.
Even those of us who kept our preseason expectations somewhat under control (I predicted a 9-3 regular season record, though my son correctly kept insisting 8-4 or 7-5 was more likely) will leave the 2016 season with few fond memories.
Overall, the defense was decent, though it suffered from lapses at some of the worst possible times. Special teams (or “specialty” teams, as Kevin Butler prefers) started out the year abysmal, but improved as the season progressed.
The offense, however, proved to be a major disappointment, even taking into account that we knew going in that Georgia was likely to see some rough patches as it broke in a true freshman quarterback and the receiving corps (correctly) was expected to be subpar. Those problems were expected to be offset by having Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the backfield, a speedy playmaker like Isaiah McKenzie, and a loaded, talented roster at tight end.
Unfortunately, an offensive line that most thought would at least be serviceable, proved instead to be absolutely terrible for much of the season, making Chubb and Michel basically nonfactors in several games in the first half of the season.
New offensive coordinator Jim Chaney stubbornly kept trying to run up the middle when he didn’t have the OL for it, and seemingly was determined to put Jacob Eason under center (even though the freshman QB was more comfortable and successful in the shotgun). Other than being known for questionable play-calls and an inability to notch touchdowns reliably in the red zone, the Georgia offense never really developed any sort of identity over the course of the season.
Chaney not only didn’t wipe the sour memory of Brian Schottenheimer from our minds, his unit ultimately proved less productive than the one that helped get Mark Richt fired.
Really, looking back on the 2016 season, there are only two games that can be considered quality wins: The opener in the Georgia Dome against a then-ranked North Carolina, and the upset of a Top 10 Auburn team.
The rest of Georgia’s seven wins include an embarrassing squeaker over Nicholls State (who?), closer-than-need-be victories over mediocre Missouri and South Carolina teams, another close win over a better-than-expected Kentucky program, and a comfortable crushing of Louisiana-Lafayette.
Yes, Georgia played a good game against a highly hyped (though not quite as good as everyone expected) Tennessee squad, and should have won that game. The fact that the Dawgs didn’t win over the Vols, despite having the lead with 4 seconds left on the clock, and lost another home game against a respectable but still not-great Vanderbilt team, only added to the level of frustration fans felt this season.
Throw in a couple of bad beatdowns by Ole Miss and Florida and the Dawgs’ fourth-quarter collapse against their in-state rival, who appeared to be on the ropes as that last quarter started, and you have what fans consider basically a “lost” season.
Not exactly what we pictured on that glorious spring day when 93K packed Sanford Stadium to hail the homecoming of a UGA hero, was it?
Right about now, as a UGA loyalist, I’m supposed to say something like “Wait till next year,” but, with at least a year of seasoning needed for those big offensive line stars of the future Smart is expected to sign, and Chubb and Michel probably gone to the NFL after this season, I’m thinking the outlook is more like “Wait till the year after next.”
In the meantime, let’s hope Georgia’s return to Memphis turns out better for this group of Bulldogs than the 2010 Liberty Bowl game against Central Florida, which marked the nadir of Richt’s only losing season at Georgia.
A DISAPPOINTING SHOWING
My wife and I were on hand at the Steg for Sunday’s basketball game against Marquette. Not a great day for the Dawgs, thanks to sloppy ball-handling, poor shooting and the Golden Eagles raining 3-pointers, but the most disappointing aspect of the day for me wasn’t the final score of 89-79, but rather the tepid fan response that Mark Fox’s team got from the UGA fan base.
The team wore its black uniforms generally reserved for the road, and fans also were encouraged to join in a Blackout, with the idea being to amp up the fans and give the Dawgs more of a home advantage.
But, with the arena appearing to be only about half full (the official attendance of 7,620 must have included a lot of seats that were paid for but not occupied), the crowd really was never a major factor, only getting cranked up briefly midway through the second half when the Dawgs clawed back from a double-digit deficit to pull within 2 points.
I can understand the student sections being less than full, what with final exams coming up this week, but there were too many in the other sections of Stegeman Coliseum for a Sunday afternoon game against a marquee nonconference opponent.
I know Sunday’s game was televised, and I’m sure the house will be packed for a number of big games once the SEC portion of the schedule begins, but it’s those early nonconference games that often spell the difference in whether a team makes the Big Dance come the end of the season.
Fox’s program deserves better fan support than it got Sunday.
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