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TCU coach Gary Patterson

Planning for the Opponent: Georgia must make TCU one-dimensional in Liberty Bowl

Matt Jennings

It was an uneven year for both Georgia and TCU in 2016, and both teams will be trying to put away their inconsistencies in the Liberty Bowl Friday.

The game kicks off at noon (EST) from Memphis, Tenn., and will be aired on ESPN.

The Bulldogs are in Year 1 under new management with Kirby Smart, and it has been a rocky transition. At times, they flashed potential: beating North Carolina and Auburn, the first three quarters against Tennessee. At other times, they looked lost: non-competitive games against Florida and Ole Miss, the Homecoming loss to Vanderbilt, the fourth quarter against Tennessee.

The irony is that TCU’s season followed a similar script. The Horned Frogs dealt with similar peaks: blowing out Baylor and Texas, furious comebacks against Arkansas and Oklahoma. They also had the same kind of valleys: getting blown out by Oklahoma State and Kansas State, crumbling late against Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Whichever team wins gets to feel a lot better about itself heading into the offseason. The other will have plenty of questions to answer during the long wait for next September.

Here’s what Georgia has to do to make sure it’s the former and not the latter:

Force TCU to throw the ball

This may seem counterintuitive given that TCU runs an Air Raid offense designed to throw the ball. But the Frogs have played their best when they’ve been able to lean on RB Kyle Hicks and their ground game. In two wins over Baylor and Texas, TCU averaged 370 yards on the ground. Not coincidentally, the Frogs won those two games by a combined margin of 93-31.

But when teams have been able to bottle up the running game and force QB Kenny Hill to beat them, the TCU offense has fallen apart. In the Frogs’ last three losses, they’ve averaged 153 rushing yards and thrown four interceptions. Georgia needs to load the box and make Hill prove he can make throws against one-on-one coverage.

Wear down the Frogs’ front six

Despite what the overall rankings may say, TCU’s defense has actually improved steadily over this season. The Frogs ended up allowing the fewest yards per play in the Big 12 (5.1). But when they faced tough ground attacks from Oklahoma and K-State, they had trouble getting off the field.

That’s where Nick Chubb and Sony Michel come in. If the Bulldogs’ star running backs can beat up TCU’s linebackers early, they’ll reap the rewards in the fourth quarter. But they’ll need their offensive line to create holes against a quick, athletic TCU front.

Let Jacob Eason take some shots downfield

Gary Patterson’s defenses have one consistent weakness: they are susceptible to big plays. He’ll often leave his defensive backs in one-on-one matchups so he can use other defenders elsewhere. When everyone executes their assignments, the strategy works well. But if one man gets beat, there may not be anyone around to help.

Jacob Eason has shown great arm strength already this season. Georgia should have a couple plays designed to get Isaiah Mackenzie and other wideouts behind the defense. Should Eason connect on a couple of those throws, it may be enough for the Bulldogs to win.