Report Card: Georgia finishes … not strong, but good enough

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MEMPHIS, TN – DECEMBER 30: Wide receiver John Diarse #9 of the TCU Horned Frogs carries the ball by linebacker Lorenzo Carter #7 of the Georgia Bulldogs at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on December 30, 2016 in Memphis, Tennessee. At halftime the TCU Horned Frogs leads the Georgia Bulldogs 16-14. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – It was a happy vibe around the Peabody Hotel on Friday night, as Georgia fans milled about and celebrated, occasionally snapping photos with Georgia players coming through. (And this reporter couldn’t help but notice that a bunch of players were treating themselves to dinner across the street at … Subway. Which is either a fine, healthy choice, or a very poor reward for a bowl victory.)

Here’s the final report card of the 2016 season, an overall disappointing one, but ended on a good note:

OFFENSE: B

It was going to be a D in the first half, but a strong second half – and being good enough to get a win – bumped it up. The good: 412 total yards, above Georgia’s average though slight below what TCU had averaged giving up this year (425); Nick Chubb’s strong second half; Chubb and Sony Michel combining for 241 yards; Isaiah McKenzie’s 103 yards, 77 of them on one catch, but also several good catches. The bad: Jacob Eason was sacked three times, the play-calling in the first half made was suspect enough to make at least one R.E.M. member ornery, and Eason missed too many open receivers. It’s actually tempting to make this a C, but there was enough good to push it up. Plus with Georgia’s offense this year, there is a bit of grading on a curve.

DEFENSE: A

It doesn’t have to be a shutout to earn the best possible grade. TCU came in averaging 475 yards, but Georgia held it to 321. The Bulldogs, the second-worst red zone defense in the nation, also got two red zone stops – via missed field goals – and forced another red zone trip to settle for a field goal. Georgia had five sacks and forced two turnovers. TCU hurt itself with some suspect strategy – not going up-tempo the whole way – and quarterback Kenny Hill made some bad decisions. But Georgia’s defense overall stood firm against one of the best offenses it faced this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C

The fake field goal was an inspired call, and it worked. Rodrigo Blankenship made one field goal and all his extra points – unlike TCU’s kicker. But not much else was good. The kickoff coverage was pretty bad, with TCU getting plenty of good field position. The punting was okay. There were no good punt or kickoff returns. Blankenship also missed the long field goal at the end of the first half, but that was a long shot anyway. The way it turned out was just ugly.

COACHING: B

This is like the offense: It could’ve been a C, but it was good enough to win the game. Kirby Smart’s first-half challenge of the lateral pass was clearly a mistake, and may have cost him a chance to question some questionable ball spots that followed. Jim Chaney’s play-calling, well Mike Mills addressed that – but it did improve in the second half, putting the ball in his playmakers hands. Georgia was in danger of being blown out in the second quarter, trailing 16-7 and TCU driving again. But Georgia managed to rally and win, and while players deserve credit for that – as Smart pointed out afterwards – but the coaches have a role in that too.

OVERALL: B

Beating a team that ended the season with a losing record is nothing to be too pleased about. But TCU did begin the game as a 3-point favorite, so playing well enough to pull off the victory – and not in a flukish way – deserves some credit.

Coming soon: The report card for the season.

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