There should be a strong contingent of Bulldog fans on Beale Street days before the new year.
Georgia is heading to Memphis to play in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 30.
Not exactly the way most would have drawn up how they wanted Kirby Smart’s first season as Bulldogs head coach to end, but there is at least some intriguing aspects of the game.
Georgia (7-5) will go up against TCU (6-6), a Big 12 program it hasn’t played for 28 years, in a bowl the Bulldogs haven’t been to since 2010. Kickoff is at noon ET on ESPN.
“The opportunity to play an outstanding team in TCU is an exciting challenge for our coaches and players,” Smart said in a statement. “This will be my first trip to the game as a player or coach, but the Liberty Bowl has a long history of providing a quality bowl experience that I’m sure our players and fans will enjoy. We will face a quality Big 12 opponent in TCU and I’m sure coach (Gary) Patterson will have them at their best on Dec. 30. We are anxious to begin practice and preparations for the trip to Memphis.”
Patterson said in a late Sunday afternoon teleconference (Smart was to be have his own later Sunday night) that he didn’t know much about this Georgia team yet, but had followed Smart because “I’m a defensive guy, just watching guys from afar, how they do things and what goes on. Probably a little bit like us in his first year, just having some growing pains.”
TCU ended the regular season without a winning record under Patterson for just the third time in his 14 seasons. It has lost four of its past six games after a 4-2 season.
“For us as a program, it used to be 6-6 might have been exciting, but we believe in winning championships and doing it just like the University of Georgia does,” Patterson said. “That’s what Kirby is trying to get to right now. That’s why the University of Georgia brought him back, and he’s put together a really good staff of guys that I’ve known. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to say hello to those guys. We don’t cross over very much. Having an opportunity to be able to do that, that’s one of the great things about playing a in bowl game.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray threw two interceptions in a 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the Bulldogs’ last Liberty Bowl in A.J. Green’s final Bulldog game. This time it will be the first bowl game for Georgia freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. Georgia strength coaches Scott Sinclair and Ed Ellis were on UCF’s strength staff for that 2010 Liberty Bowl.
Georgia sold about half of its 10,000-ticket allotment in 2010, but there may have been 20,000 Bulldog fans on hand. This is the program’s fourth Liberty Bowl appearance.
“Rarely do we face an opponent from the Big 12, and we look forward to this matchup,” athletic director Greg McGarity said.
Georgia is selling tickets to the game for $85 (sideline) and $95 (chairback). It is Georgia’s 20th straight bowl appearance.
Smart said he will use the bowl practices on such things as developing players and getting better with timing on offense.
“We’ve got so many areas that we need to improve on, red zone on both sides of the ball is just critical,” Smart said on his radio show Thursday. “You always cut out the last six or seven (practices) to do a game week and prepare. We prepare as coaches as soon as we get them, but we don’t introduce that to the kids because we felt a lot of times in bowl prep they get with the opponent if you work on it for 15 straight practices.”
TCU and Georgia have met three times previously in football, with Georgia winning all three.
They last played in Vince Dooley’s final season in 1988, a 38-10 Bulldogs win in Athens. The other games were in the 1980 national title season by 34-3 and in the Orange Bowl in the 1941 season, 40-26, in the Bulldogs’ first bowl game.
Georgia landed in the Liberty after Auburn went to the Sugar Bowl (to play Oklahoma). The Citrus picked LSU (to play Louisville) and then the pool of six bowls were assigned by the SEC including Florida to the Outback (against Iowa), Kentucky to the TaxSlayer (to play Georgia Tech) and Tennessee to the Music City (against Nebraska), Texas A&M to the Texas (vs. Kansas State) and Arkansas to the Belk (to play Virginia Tech).
Smart gets a $75,000 bonus for a pool of six bowl, $25,000 more than he would have for the Birmingham or Independence Bowls.
Both teams are looking to bounce back from losses in their regular season finales.
Georgia lost a 13-point fourth-quarter lead in falling to rival Georgia Tech 28-27.
The Horned Frogs have quarterback Kenny Hill, the transfer from Texas A&M who went up against Smart when he was a defensive coordinator at Alabama in a 59-0 Crimson Tide win in 2014, when he was sacked five times.
TCU has won four of its past five bowl games, including in triple overtime against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl last year and a 42-3 win against Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl in 2014.
The Horned Frogs are tied for sixth in the nation in sacks with 40. Defensive end Josh Carraway is the team leader with eight.