On paper, the Liberty Bowl looked like an even matchup between the Georgia Bulldogs and TCU Horned Frogs. That predictions bore itself out once the teams lined up on the gridiron, as the game was decided by a couple of kicks.
Georgia (8-5) defeated TCU (6-7) 31-23 Friday in Memphis, Tenn. to give UGA coach Kirby Smart his first career bowl victory as a head coach.
TCU’s defense thoroughly dominated the Bulldogs in the first half. Georgia was able to get on the scoreboard thanks to a couple of big plays. Sony Michel punched in a touchdown following a 77-yard catch and run by Isaiah McKenzie on Georgia’s second drive. Michel provided Georgia another touchdown with a catch and run of his own as the first half wound down, taking a Jacob Eason pass 33 yards to put the Bulldogs behind by only two points, 16-14, thanks to a missed extra point from TCU kicker Brandon Hatfield.
Georgia totaled 412 yards of offense, with the bulk of that coming on the ground. Nick Chub amassed 142 yards on 17 carries, while Michel gained 87 yards on 15 runs.
The missed extra point ended up being crucial. The teams exchanged scored in the third quarter to bring the score to 23-21 TCU heading into the final period. A made field goal from UGA kicker Rodrigo Blankenship and missed one by Hatfield kept the score at 24-23 for most of the half, before a late touchdown run by Chubb gave Georgia the 31-23 victory.
Here’s some more about the game:
- Georgia’s stars of game: Liberty Bowl MVP Trenton Thompson was nothing short of spectacular in the win, sacking Kenny Hill three times, a Liberty Bowl record. Lorenzo Carter has slowly but surely progressed this season from a potential major contributor to the best player on Georgia’s defense. That progression culminated in the Liberty Bowl, where he had two forced footballs that bookended the end of the first and beginning of the second halves, and also provided a sack. The game will be a confidence builder for Carter, who should be the leader of the defense in 2017.
- Turning point: On the final play of the third quarter, with Georgia trailing by two, Nick Chubb got some steam for the first time in the game and rumbled 48 yards to the TCU 7. A few plays later, Blankenship hit a go-ahead 50-yard field goal to give Georgia a 24-23 lead, which they never relinquished.
- Questions answered: What will be Georgia’s strength in 2017? The answer became obvious in the Liberty Bowl: the front seven. Carter and Thompson were obviously beasts, while Roquan Smith and his fellow inside linebackers did their best to patrol the center of the field and stop TCU runs. Without the front seven’s ability to pressure TCU’s offense, Georgia likely would’ve never been close in this game. Likewise, any success Georgia finds next season will likely draw from the strength of the front seven.
- Questions looming: What’s the deal with Jim Chaney? Georgia’s offense finally found some rhythm in the second half, but Chaney was atrocious on the play-calling front for most of the game, specifically in the first. His inability to get away from a ‘run-run-pass’ play-calling structure made the Bulldogs far too predictable, and created way too many third-and-longs. Who knows how likely Smart is to make a change at offensive coordinator in his first season, but there is a large slew of Georgia fans who would not be opposed.
- Statistically speaking: With a 2-yard run in the first quarter, Chubb passed Todd Gurley’s mark of 3,285 career rushing yards to move to second all-time in the Georgia record books. The junior finished the game with 142 yards to give him 3,423 so far in his UGA career. Chubb will have to settle for second place, as it would take an otherworldly senior campaign to surpass Herschel Walker’s 5,259 career yards.
- What it means: The win ends Georgia’s first season – a season plagued by close, difficult losses – under Smart on a high note. There will be positive sentiment in regard to the job Smart is doing with the program, which should build some excitement for next season. It also gives the staff a bit of momentum as Smart & Co. head out on the recruiting trail.