Posted: 9:44 pm Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Dawgs head to Memphis for their big audition 

By Jay Black

When we last saw Kirby Smart, it wasn’t good.

Memphis is a music town. It’s the home of the blues and the home of the man with the Blue Suede Shoes.

How many people have come this town with the only thing getting in the way of a job is an audition?

You can add another 75 Bulldogs, plus a few coaches, to that list on Friday when Georgia plays in the Liberty Bowl.

Welcome to your big audition for what everybody hopes will be a big 2017 season.

If you aren’t playing in a bowl game that matters (and in case you’re wondering, the Liberty Bowl doesn’t), then the main question is always, how motivated is your team?

For the record, here’s what was said.

“It means a lot,” said Nick Chubb. “It’s another game to play another great opponent and just see where your team is at. It kind of helps us move into spring and what we need to fix. We can move on from there.”

Alright so we got that cleared up.

You never know if a team is really ready until they kick off. It helps that TCU was expected to be good this year and wasn’t. It helps that the Horned Frogs have a little bit of tradition and have been in contention in the last few years. Central Florida this is not.

But the opponent for this game should be irrelevant. The audition for 2017 begins on the next to last day of 2016.

When you go 7-5 with a bad loss to Georgia Tech and a worse loss to Vanderbilt on your resume, all questions are fair.

Georgia center Brandon Kublanow (54) runs a drill during the Bulldogs’ practice at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., (Photo by Steven Colquitt/UGA)

Yes Georgia had a young coach this year, but his team was just as inexperienced.

The only starters Georgia will lose after the Liberty Bowl are three guys on the offensive line, a No.3 wide receiver (Reggie Davis), nickel back Maurice Smith and backup safety and former starter Quincy Mauger.

That’s it. That’s the list.

Everybody else better be on their best behavior.

Even the coaches realize, this thing didn’t work out.

“There’s been a lot of reflection on my part throughout the season and bowl preparation on what we could’ve done better, what we should’ve done better,” said offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. “That will continue through the off season when Coach Smart and I get the chance to sit down and visit more about the direction we want to go. I just felt like we could’ve done a lot better and a lot of that starts with me.”

There isn’t going to be any magical pill that’s going to make this group look like a playoff contender that just got lost and settled down in Memphis to play TCU. It’s a 7-5 football team. That’s what the Dawgs are. And when you’re 7-5 there are a lot of people who should be playing with some pretty big shoulder chips. From the stars on down.

Chubb and Sony Michel have already announce they will be back, but they are coming off their worst combined season in their three years here.

Jacob Eason is pretty well entrenched as the starter, but he’s got another hot-shot freshman breathing down his neck next year. Plus, while he had some moments, he had very few complete football games. Nothing wrong with that from a freshman, but the freshman excuse is about to end. Stardom, frankly, we be expected in 2017.

Every single wide receiver has something to prove. UGA clearly needs a game-changer here and they don’t have one.

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Nick Chubb and Sony Michel still have something to prove too.

Tight end Isaac Nauta might be the most talented player in the group, but the last ball that was thrown to him was a huge drop in the final drive against Georgia Tech.

Statistically, Georgia’s defense turned into one of the better ones in the country, ranked 16th in total defense and 40th in points allowed. But does Smart and Mel Tucker have a player who terrifies the other team right now?

Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy each led UGA in sacks, but they only had four each. That’s tied for 21st best in the SEC. Bellamy was the team leader in TFLs with eight. He came in 29th place in the league.

Not bad, but not great. Alabama had five players better.

Bottom line, no one on this team should feel great about the season they had. No one can say, even under their breath, “At least I did my part.” That includes the head coach.

So the motivation for this Liberty Bowl should be pretty clear.

If you aren’t motivated for your big audition, then you probably don’t need to be on the stage.

 

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