MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Greetings from the Liberty Bowl, back for the first time in six years. And oh, the memories.
It’s cold again, though sunny, unlike last time. Still, it’s the kind of weather where a quarterback might be tempted to wear gloves. And if Jacob Eason does so, then Aaron Murray will probably send an emergency text to someone he still knows in the program.
A more recent memory: In late September, we were driving back from the Ole Miss game, and when we passed the Liberty Bowl it was remarked, “Hey, maybe we’ll be back here in December.” We had a good laugh and moved on. No way we thought it’d be true.
And yet, here we are.
How much does this game matter in the grand scheme of things? Probably not too much. Even when Georgia was upset here six years ago, finishing with an ugly 6-7 record, the Bulldogs went on to sign one of the most highly-rated and productive classes in recent memory, and won two straight SEC East titles.
This time around, 8-5 would feel a lot better than 7-6, but Kirby Smart and his staff are on their way to a very good recruiting class, and will have a lot of talent coming back in 2017. So a win would be nice, and a loss would lead to more hand-wringing over the coaching ability of the staff going forward. But the Liberty Bowl loss was a blip in 2010, and the Belk Bowl win two years ago didn’t end up spurring the program to greatness.
The bettors out there apparently don’t think much off Georgia’s chances today. TCU began as a slight favorite – by about a point – but heavy money has since moved to TCU, which is a 3-point favorite now. That’s actually a big move in the betting world.
Gary Patterson’s record in bowls is 9-5, his first win coming here in the Liberty Bowl in 2002. This of course will be Smart’s first bowl game as a head coach. Maybe that’s figuring into it.
Or maybe how each team’s conference has looked: The SEC is reeling, with a 1-4 record heading into this game, while the Big 12 is 3-1. (The lone loss by West Virginia, defeated by Miami.)
My feeling all along is that the numbers favor TCU: It has one of the better offenses that Georgia will face this season, while TCU’s defense – as lowly as it is ranked – has been hurt by facing all those prolific Big 12 offenses. But both teams have been rather erratic this season, so nothing should surprise anybody today.
Bowl games, as they say, usually come down to who wants to be there the most. Six years ago, Georgia clearly wasn’t excited by being here, and UCF was very motivated, and that’s a big reason it won. This time around, Smart has been doing his best to motivate Georgia, coaching every practice like he has this season, and getting here on Christmas night, while TCU arrived a day later. But Patterson told us that he also got in 12 practices – about the same as Georgia – and while I haven’t been around TCU enough to gauge its mood, Patterson’s record and demeanor indicated they’ll come to play too.
Ultimately, I think turnovers tell the tale today, especially on TCU’s side: Quarterback Kenny Hill could be the difference either way, as a dual-threat quarterback who could extend drives and hurt Georgia’s defense, but also as a guy who turned it over way too much this season.
Should be an interesting game. One more game in 2016, ladies and gentlemen. One more.
Inside linebacker update
Natrez Patrick is going through warm-ups with the first team, something he didn’t do the previous three games, all of which he missed. So that’s a good sign for him playing.
But Reggie Carter (hyperextended knee) is not going through warm-ups. The second team linebackers were Juwan Taylor and Tae Crowder. (As usual, Roquan Smith was with the first team.)
Another receiver out
Details in this story.
Offensive line update
It looks like Isaiah Wynn will start at left tackle, based on warm-ups. That’s been the indicator during practices this week in Memphis.
Dyshon Sims is at left guard, as he has been, with Tyler Catalina going with the second team. But Smart has said that both Catalina and Wynn will play today.
Also, redshirt freshman Sam Madden, who hasn’t played yet this year, is not in uniform. He’s not redshirting, so it’s not clear whether that’s an injury situation.
Other injury updates
Cornerback Tyrique McGhee (unknown injury) and inside linebacker Reggie Carter (hyperextended knee) are both in uniform and going through warm-ups. So is inside linebacker Natrez Patrick (shoulder.)
They’re going through Georgia’s games this season on the video highlights, showing the most stirring moments … well not all the games.
They’ve omitted the four losses. No Ole Miss, no Tennessee, Vanderbilt, etc. The highlights stopped with the black jerseys against Louisiana-Lafayette.