MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When it comes to running the football, there’s a fine line between being stubborn and committed.
The key is to not give up and that, according to Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, is why the Bulldogs were able to ease past TCU 31-23 in Friday’s Liberty Bowl.
“Sometimes, offensively, you have to do things you may not want to do, but have to do. Every team to me at the end of the day — you look at these rushing stats — rushing yards for Georgia 248, rushing yards for TCU 175,” Smart said. “I’m a big believer that you’ve got to be able to run the ball to win games.”
That was certainly the case against the Horned Frogs, who held Georgia (8-5) to just 49 rushing yards in the first half before the Bulldogs exploded for 199 in the second. The effort was spearheaded by running back Nick Chubb, who rushed 17 times for 142 yards and one touchdown — that coming on a 13-yard scamper with 2:48 left to put the game away.
“As an offense, we struggled. Everything was three-and-out, but we never stopped. Nobody on the offense, nobody on the team stopped,” Chubb said. “We just kept pounding and believing in what we do and eventually we ended up breaking some here in there. Sony (Michel) broke some, I broke some and after a while nobody wants to keep tackling, especially in bowl season.”
TCU head coach Gary Patterson said his young team learned a valuable lesson with Friday’s defeat.
“For us, it was a game that we could have easily won,” Patterson said. “But you’ve got to make plays. For us, it’s kind of been the story of our season, so you’ve got to step forward and be ready to go.”
Despite his second-half heroics, Chubb was not the best player on the field — at least as far as the MVP voting was concerned.
That honor went to sophomore defensive tackle Trenton Thompson, who set a Liberty Bowl record and tied a Georgia record with three sacks and finished with eight tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss.
“(Thompson) played well,” TCU quarterback Kenny Hill said. “He just played well. Georgia came out in the second half and made adjustments. They were just able to make a couple more plays than us.”
Trailing by two points, a 30-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship put Georgia back up 24-23 with 13:27 remaining. Chubb’s score with 2:48 left finally gave the Bulldogs enough cushion to fend off the Horned Frogs (6-7).
TCU was paced by Hill, who completed 18 of 27 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns, both going to John Diarse.
For Georgia, Jacob Eason finished 12 of 21 for 164 yards and two scores — one each to Javon Wims and Michel, who accounted for two of Georgia’s four touchdowns.
TCU led 16-14 at the half, with Georgia drawing within two points on a 4-yard run by Michel with 4:12 left in the second quarter.
On the ensuing kick, KaVonte Turpin brought the ball back 50 yards to midfield with just over one minute left, only to have Lorenzo Carter strip the ball from Hill and into the hands of Aaron Davis to give Georgia a final opportunity with 30 seconds left before half.
Earlier, Michel put Georgia up 7-0 on a 4-yard run after a great play by Eason in which he avoided pressure to complete a pass to Isaiah McKenzie, who turned it into a 77-yard gain.
But back came the Horned Frogs with 16 straight points, first getting a 40-yard field from Brandon Hatfield before taking the lead on a 10-yard run by Hill.
The extra point failed, keeping the score at 9-7, but after a fumble by Eason, TCU quickly drove 16 yards with Hill hitting Diarse for a 10-yard touchdown and a 16-7 lead.
NOTES: Nick Chubb surpassed Todd Gurley for No. 2 on Georgia’s all-time rushing list. … The Liberty Bowl marked TCU’s 14th bowl appearance in 16 seasons under Gary Patterson. … Wims’ touchdown catch to put Georgia up 21-16 was the first career for the junior college transfer.