When it first was announced that Georgia’s Belk Bowl opponent would be Louisville, whose defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, was handling the same job at UGA a year ago, the talk was about how much would he be able to take advantage of his inside knowledge of the Dawgs’ offense.
Turns out, it was Georgia’s knowledge of Grantham defenses that proved to be the more important factor in the Dawgs’ 37-14 win.
When Grantham was coaching Georgia’s defense, two recurring problems aggravated Bulldogs fans: the tendency of the run defense to wear down in the second half and Grantham’s inability to get his signals in quickly enough to handle a hurry-up offense.
Fortunately for Georgia, those Grantham tendencies were still apparent Tuesday night in Charlotte, as his former team racked up 505 yards of offense, despite having the backup quarterback in for just over half of the game. Louisville came into the game with the nation’s third-ranked run defense, allowing just 93.7 yards a game, but 305 of the Dawgs’ offensive yards came on the ground (all but 85 in the second half), and Nick Chubb scored a touchdown on a hurry-up play where the Cardinals defenders couldn’t manage to get into position in time.
It was a record-setting night for Chubb, who earned MVP honors and set school and conference bowl records with a career-high 266 yards of rushing and two touchdowns on 33 carries, the second-best running performance in UGA history, trailing only Herschel Walker’s 283 as a freshman in 1980 versus Vanderbilt.
One of the night’s high points came when Chubb, who had 78 yards on 12 carries in the first half, notched a Bulldog bowl record 82-yard run in the third quarter with Georgia backed up at its own 3-yard line. That set up a 3-play, 97-yard scoring drive.
It was Chubb’s eighth straight game of more than 100 yards rushing. The true freshman finished with 1,547 yards, which ranks in a tie for the fourth best total in school history with Garrison Hearst and the second best ever by a Bulldog freshman, trailing only Walker’s 1,616 in 1980.
The score could have been even more lopsided. Sony Michel had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown called back due to an unnecessary block in the back (in the only major special teams mishap of the night), and Georgia bogged down in the red zone a couple of times in the first half, settling for field goals instead of TDs.
Overall, tight ends coach John Lilly, who was calling the Dawgs’ offensive plays for the first time thanks to the departure to Colorado of Mike Bobo, did a good job, especially in going to the hurry-up at key points in the first half.
Senior QB Hutson Mason finished 10-of-15 for 149 yards, including a 44-yard scoring strike to Chris Conley, before leaving the game for good late in the first half due to an injury that Mason said after the game involved concussion-like symptoms of dizziness, blurred vision and lack of awareness, despite him passing concussion tests.
Conley’s 20thcareer touchdown catch moved him in to a tie for fourth all-time in school history with Fred Gibson. For the season, one-year starter Mason set a school record for completion percentage at 67.87, eclipsing the old mark of 65.03 percent made by Bobo in 1997. Georgia set a school scoring record with 537 points this year and averaged 41.3 points a game, another school record.
Somewhat unfairly overshadowed by Chubb’s stellar performance was the showing of Jeremy Pruitt’s Georgia defense, which dominated the Cardinals’ offense most of the night and snagged three interceptions — two by freshman safety Dominick Sanders — and four sacks, holding Petrino’s Cardinals 18 points below their season scoring average.
And that was in spite of losing starting safety Quincy Mauger to a concussion late in the second quarter and Louisville having one of the nation’s best receivers in DeVante Parker, who caught eight passes for 120 yards. The Cardinals wound up with only 62 yards on the ground and 314 through the air, though a bunch of that came in garbage time when the Dawgs were back in prevent. It was fitting that the game ended on a sack by Georgia’s defense.
Those Dismal Dawgs for whom nothing short of playing for a national championship qualifies as a successful season might not have gotten much joy out of this bowl game, but, for the rest of us, it was a very satisfying Georgia win, especially considering the off-field distractions that Richt’s Bulldogs managed to overcome.
No, it wasn’t the season it could have been, but it definitely ended on an up note.
Feel free to share your own views of UGA’s record-setting night in Charlotte.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.