CHARLOTTE - The last month has not been a fun one around the Georgia football team. Lingering resentments abounded, along with a sense that it had failed to reach its full potential. A loss here would have accelerated the ill feelings.
The Bulldogs needed a victory, and needed it badly. And they got it in convincing fashion.
Georgia rolled over Louisville, 37-14, sending the Bulldogs into an uncertain offseason on an upbeat note. While they fell short of SEC and national championship hopes, the Bulldogs (10-3) did get to double-digit wins, and have a chance to finish in the final top 10 rankings.
It also didn't hurt to beat Todd Grantham, Louisville's defensive coordinator, who held the same job at Georgia from 2010-13 before fleeing for the Cardinals. The Grantham factor was downplayed by the Bulldogs in the lead-up to the game, but afterwards senior quarterback Hutson Mason admitted it added something special to the win.
"I always heard the stuff Grantham would say about other opponents and other offenses. And I know his view on our offense: He called it the Mickey Mouse offense," Mason said. "I saw him over there getting pumped up on a few stops. I think it makes it a little more sweet that you did it, not necessarily against Grantham, but against a very good defense."
Louisville did enter the night ranked highly in several categories. But Georgia torched Grantham's defense in precisely those areas.
Freshman tailback Nick Chubb racked up 266 yards, the second-most in Georgia history, behind only Herschel Walker's 283 yards in 1980. Chubb did it against what was the nation's second-ranked run defense; the most anyone had rushed against Louisville this season was 173, by Florida State.
"That kid is good at football," Georgia cornerback Damian Swann said of Chubb. "He's going to break a lot of records in his Georgia career."
Louisville had also been third in the nation in third-down defense, which had been a sore point the last few years of Grantham's tenure at Georgia. His former team had a field day with that too on Tuesday, converting on 12 of 18 third downs.
"That's a top five defense out there and we just hung 37 on them," Mason said. "I say it with 100 percent confidence, you just watched the best offense in UGA history. That's something that, although you didn't win a championship and didn't do what you hoped for, that's a lot of stuff to be proud of, and you can take it all to your grave."
Georgia did indeed set a new school record with 547 points, breaking the record the 2012 offense set, when it played 14 games. All in all, it was a very good performance for an offense that lost its coordinator just over a week ago, when Mike Bobo took the head job at Colorado State.
Tight ends coach John Lilly took over the play-calling duties for the game, and the Bulldogs put up 505 total yards and averaged 6.6 yards per play.
"I don't want to sound over-confident or arrogant or whatever, but that's what we expected to happen, quite frankly," Lilly said. "I knew they'd go out there and execute at a high level if we just put them in position. And that was the No. 1 thing, we just wanted to put them in position to win the game, and make plays.
"Of course, the fact Nick Chubb got off the bus helped."
Chubb finished the season with 1,547 yards, tying Garrison Hearst for the fourth-best rushing season in school history. Walker has the top three. Chubb also had the second-most rushing yards for a freshman in school history, behind only Walker.
And Chubb accomplished that despite being Todd Gurley's top backup in five games.
But Georgia also got very solid performances from its defense, which held in track Bobby Petrino's high-octane offense, and Mason, who hit Chris Conley for a 41-yard touchdown on the first possession. Mason had 149 passing yards before leaving the game in the second quarter with vision problems.
Turnovers also were critical for Georgia, which had three interceptions, two by Dominick Sanders and Damian Swann had another.
Georgia finishes with 10 wins for the third time in four years. But this was only the second win in a bowl in the past five years for the Bulldogs.
“I told the team before the game that I was thankful we had another game to play," head coach Mark Richt said. "The last game we played together obviously was the loss to Tech, and it’s not fun to lose period. I’m glad for our seniors sake and our team’s sake that we had a chance to play another game, and had a chance to play against a really good team.”
This has been a trying season for Richt, who had to deal with Gurley's four-game NCAA suspension, the embarrassing loss to Florida, and close losses to South Carolina and Georgia Tech. There were also big victories over Clemson, Auburn, Missouri and Arkansas.
But the bad seemed to overshadow the good. And Bobo's departure, creating a void that will need to be filled soon, made the last month even harder for Richt. That made finishing on a high note all the better.
"It was a year where we had to overcome a lot," Richt said. "I think this game was maybe very similar to the type of season we had, as far as losing some key people, and other guys having to step up and make plays, and just continue our focus, and continue to fight. Just really proud of everybody."