JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Before he went up to the press box to call plays for a second straight bowl game, John Lilly was on the field. He spotted Nick Chubb and made his approach.
“I asked him in pregame if he was sure that he didn’t have a couple carries in him,” Lilly said, smiling. “I wanted to send him out there.”
It wasn’t possible, of course, and the results didn’t end up being as spectacular. But the most important one remained the same: Lilly moved to 2-0 as Georgia’s offensive play-caller after the 24-17 win over Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
“I wish we could’ve finished the game a little bit better, a little bit stronger,” Lilly said. “But I don’t ever complain about a win. That’s something Mike Bobo always talked about. In this league, and against caliber of opponents like them, don’t ever apologize for winning.”
He especially didn’t need to after the circumstances.
The struggles of Georgia’s offense, and a pretty strong opponent in Penn State’s defense. The injuries in the backfield. The tumult over the last month in the Georgia program, which led to former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer stepping aside and Lilly, the tight ends coach, being elevated again.
“People don’t believe you when you say this. But every fiber of my being wanted to win this football game,” Lilly said. “And that’s really, for the most part, all I’ve been focusing on. All our kids deserve that. I love every one of those guys in that locker room. When you sit in their living rooms and recruit them, you tell their parents you’re going to take care of them no matter what happens, you owe it to them to come out here and do everything in our power to come out and give them a great plan and the best chance to win.”
Last year, with Lilly replacing Bobo, who had become Colorado State’s head coach, Georgia racked up 37 points and 492 yards in the win over Louisville. This year it was 24 points and 327 yards. But along the way the Bulldogs made some play calls popular in the locker room.
“Man, coach Lilly he’ll take some shots, that’s for sure,” senior receiver Malcolm Mitchell said, smiling. “You know, that’s exciting. Not to have anything against any other coach. But Lilly, you saw last bowl game he just lets it loose and trusts the players to make plays.”
That’s true, but Lilly actually called more runs on Saturday, in fact almost twice as many.
“He likes to run the ball. We like to run the ball,” offensive tackle John Theus said. “He’s a great coach. The guys respect him. He’s a man of honor, a man of character and a great football coach. Two-and-0. I know the circumstances aren’t the way he wanted. But he deserves a lot of credit.”
The play that opened things up was a pass by Terry Godwin, who had lined up in the Wildcat. Mitchell got open downfield and turned it into a 44-yard touchdown catch to give Georgia a lead it would not relinquish.
Chris Kragthorpe, an offensive line graduate assistant, was at LSU last year when they ran a similar play in the Music City Bowl.
“We were looking for some gadgets,” Lilly said. “(Kragthorpe) pulled it up, we said hey we can do that with Terry.”
Yes, there was preparation for this game, even while coaches – including Lilly – had to figure out their futures. And Lilly is one of the few who still doesn’t know where he will be.
Lilly didn’t want to talk about his opportunities, but it is known that he turned down a chance to re-join Mark Richt in Miami. He could be eyeing a chance in the NFL, where jobs will open up with the regular season ending this weekend.
“I’ve got great faith. I think the Lord’s got great things in store for myself, my family and all that. I don’t know what they are right now,” Lilly said. “But certainly from this stage that’s what we’re going to focus on.”