Georgia football: Best and Worst of the 2016 season

Nov 12, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Maurice Smith (2) reacts with safety Dominick Sanders (24) after he intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Georgia defeated Auburn 13-7. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia football ended the 2016 season Friday with a win over TCU to end the season 8-5.

The 2016 Georgia football is over and there was a lot to enjoy, but also a lot to forget. Which is obvious for a team that finished 8-5 and lost three of its biggest rivals. Here’s a look back at the highlights of the 2016 season as well as a few things we’d rather forget.

Sep 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb (27) runs for a touchdown against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the fourth quarter of the 2016 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Best: Beating North Carolina in the Georgia Dome

It wasn’t that long ago that Georgia played Boise State in the Chick-Fil-A kickoff game. In 2011, the Bulldogs lost to the Broncos 35-21. The memory of that day was still fresh in the memories of the Bulldog Nation headed into the 2016 season and a game with North Carolina in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff game.

Although the games that followed did not go as well, Georgia looked great in Atlanta on route to a 33-24 win. Nick Chubb ran for over 200 yards and Jacob Eason looked pretty good in his first few plays as a Bulldog.

The biggest highlights came in the second when a Georgia rally began with Georgia tackling a North Carolina player in the end zone for a safety. The Georgia side of the stadium was deafening before, during and after the play. The rally ended with a 55-yard touchdown run by Chubb to bring the lead to 33-24.

Sep 24, 2016; Oxford, MS, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Sony Michel (1) runs the ball during the third quarter of the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mississippi won 45-14. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Worst: Getting blown out by Ole Miss

At the time Georgia was undefeated but didn’t look all that well in their previous games. Ole Miss had two losses, but both came against Alabama and Florida State and the Rebels lead in both games.

Because of this, Ole Miss was slightly favored. But know one expected the beating the came. Ole Miss defeated Georgia 45-14 and it was the Bulldogs worst defeat since the 2011 SEC Championship Game loss to LSU.

Oct 1, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs tight end Isaac Nauta (18) runs for a touchdown after catching a pass against the Tennessee Volunteers during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Tennessee defeated Georgia 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Best: Isaac Nauta’s coming out party versus Tennessee

Prior to the game with Tennessee, true freshman Isaac Nauta hadn’t yet shown what earned him 5-stars as a high school senior. But against the Volunteers, he had his break-out performance with five catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.

From that point on, Nauta began to look like the future superstar we see today and he ended the 2016 season earning Freshman All-SEC honors.

Oct 1, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Jauan Jennings (15) catches a game winning touchdown pass in front of Georgia Bulldogs safety Dominick Sanders (24) on the last play on the game during the fourth quarter at Sanford Stadium. Tennessee defeated Georgia 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Worst: Losing to Tennessee on a hail mary

No loss stings as bad as how Georgia lost to Tennessee. Just moments after true freshmen Jacob Eason and Riley Ridley connected an improbable, deep touchdown pass to give the Bulldogs a late lead, the defense gave up a hail mary pass to lose.

Ridley’s touchdown catch set off one of the loudest eruptions in Sanford Stadium history. It was also an amazing moment for the freshman making the first touchdown catch of his career. What should be a collection of moments replayed in the minds and on the screens of every Georgia fan, turned into something that fans would rather forget.

Mostly you have to feel bad for Eason and Ridley. They deserved all the glory, instead it was stolen on a hail mary.

Oct 9, 2016; Columbia, SC, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Brian Herrien (35) follows a block by Bulldogs guard Greg Pyke (73) during the second half against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium. Georgia won 28-14. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Best: Chubb, Michel and Herrien versus South Carolina

Georgia’s offense, especially the running game was pretty bad all year. But for one game in Columbia, the running game was amazing.

Against South Carolina, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Brian Herrien combined for 326 yards. Michel led the game with 133 yards on 21 carries, Chubb was right behind with 121 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns and Herrien finished with 82 yards on nine carries.

Despite Jacob Eason’s worst game of 2016, the running back trio led Georgia to a 28-14 win. For one game in the middle of 2016, the run game looked like what fans expected.

Oct 29, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Florida Gators running back Lamical Perine (22) runs with the ball as Georgia Bulldogs safety Quincy Mauger (20) attempted to defend during the second half at EverBank Field. Florida Gators defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Worst: Bad offense in losses to Vanderbilt and Florida

After the win over South Carolina and a pretty good performance versus Tennessee, fans began to expect more from Georgia’s offense. But that proved to be wishful thinking with awful performances against Vanderbilt and Florida.

Georgia’s offense was not too terrible against Vanderbilt. Jacob Eason did have 346 passing yards and as a team the Bulldogs had 421 yards to go along with 23 first downs. But the team only scored 16 points and the run game only had 75 yards on 35 carries.

A bad special teams performance lost the game, but the offense didn’t help.

But the game against Florida was just bad. Georgia only had 164 yards with 143 passing yards and an atrocious 21 rushing yards. Georgia’s defense played a great game, but they didn’t get any help from the offense. In the end, Georgia lost 24-10 to suffer their fourth loss in five games.

Nov 12, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb (27) runs against the Auburn Tigers during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Georgia defeated Auburn 13-7. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Best: Upsetting Auburn and extending series lead to two games

Georgia football was at a low point following the losses to Florida and Vanderbilt and a close win over Kentucky did not give fans any optimism heading into a game against no. 9 Auburn.

But an 8-2 record since 2006 and a 9-3 record over Auburn in years ending in six were reason enough to fool fans into thinking the Bulldogs had a chance. Only the Bulldog Nation wasn’t fooled. A fantastic performance by the defense complete with a pic-six by Maurice Smith gave the Bulldogs a 13-7 win.

The game started as ugly as possible with a long touchdown drive by Auburn followed by a blown pass interference call on what should have been a touchdown catch for Riley Ridley. But Smith opened the third quarter with a game tying pic-six and Rodrigo Blankenship added a pair of field goals in the fourth quarter to give Georgia the 13-7 win.

Georgia is now 10-3 over Auburn in years ending in six and 9-2 since 2006. But after tying the series in 2014 and taking the lead in 2015, Georgia fans can enjoy the fact that they have two wins over Auburn in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

Nov 26, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Clinton Lynch (22) runs past Georgia football defensive back Maurice Smith (2) for a touchdown during the first quarter at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Worst: Losing to Georgia Tech

It’s one thing to lose to Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, it’s another to lose to Florida and Tennessee, but losing to Georgia Tech is as low as it gets for a Georgia football team.

The Bulldogs and Jackets were tied at 14 at halftime, but then Georgia had one of their best quarters of the entire season by shutting out Georgia Tech 13-0 to take a 27-14 lead. The game was looking even better after David Marshall stopped the Yellow Jackets at midfield on fourth down giving the offense a chance to knock out Georgia Tech.

But they squandered it, and the defense gave up a touchdown. Then Georgia failed to score again and Georgia Tech went on another drive to take the lead for good.

Georgia has now lost to Georgia Tech twice in the last three years which is almost as bad at the stretch from 1998-2000 when Georgia Tech won three straight. It was a new low for the 2016 Bulldogs, but there’s only one direction to go from here.

Dec 30, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Georgia football head coach Kirby Smart after the game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Liberty Bowl. Georgia Bulldogs defeated the TCU Horned Frogs 31-23. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Best: Beating TCU in the Liberty Bowl

Georgia fans do not expect 7-5 seasons, but they got one this year. Georgia fans also do not expect losses in bowl games and fortunately they did not see that to end the 2016 season.

Georgia traveled to Memphis to meet the Horned Frogs for the first time since the late 1980’s to finish a disappointing season on a good note and they did just that.

TCU had a chance to put Georgia away late in the second quarter. The offense was back to its old, ineffective self and Kenny Hill was about to give TCU a 23-7 halftime lead. But then Trenton Thompson took the game over, sacked Hill and forced a 41-yard field goal.

TCU couldn’t convert and a few plays later Jacob Eason connected with Sony Michel on a 33-yard pass to cut the lead to 16-14. After three-quarters Georgia still trailed 23-21. But a 10-0 shutout in the fourth quarter gave Georgia a 31-23 lead victory.

The Bulldogs were able to finish 8-5 which means that Georgia has finished with no less than eight wins 19 times in the last 20 seasons. That also means that as bad as the 2016 was, Georgia did not reach new lows. They leave off in a position they’ve climbed back in the past.

And with a recruiting class that keeps getting better and better, the expectations for 2017 are much higher than at any point in 2016.

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