Bulldogs Beat

Georgia's John Lilly ready to call plays in second consecutive bowl game

Georgia assistant coach John Lilly will call the plays for the offense in the TaxSlayer Bowl. (Sean Taylor)
Georgia assistant coach John Lilly will call the plays for the offense in the TaxSlayer Bowl. (Sean Taylor) Sean Taylor

ATHENS -- John Lilly has been in this position before.

The Georgia tight ends coach was pressed into play-calling duty just a year ago for the Belk Bowl right after former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo took the head coaching job at Colorado State.

Once again, Lilly is being asked to call plays. Only this time, it's under much different circumstances.

Former head coach Mark Richt was fired, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer elected not to finish the year out and coach the TaxSlayer Bowl against Penn State.

Those moves placed Lilly once again into an important role to oversee the offense.

The offense Lilly directed in Georgia's 2014 Belk Bowl victory put up 37 points and ran roughshod over a highly touted Louisville defense. That makes Lilly the perfect choice to fill in as Georgia's offensive coordinator.

"He earned that right last year," receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. "He'll do it again, and hopefully he'll do just as well as he did before. I'm sure he will."

It should be noted that Lilly called Bobo's playbook, which helped the team average 41.3 points per game last year. Schottenheimer's offense only managed 26.5 points per game this season, and Lilly will be calling plays from the selection Georgia has worked with all year. Still, there is a chance for Lilly to tweak some of the plays to adhere more to what Bobo ran.

For this game, Lilly actually has had a lot more time to prepare for his opponent compared to last time.

"It's actually a little bit different," Georgia interim head coach Bryan McClendon said. "Mike was in and out a little bit. It was more so of, 'Hey, you guys get your ideas together, and I'll be back. I'm going to go interview for this job.' Then he comes back for a day or two and is like, 'Hey, I'm out.' He just got a job, just like anybody would. We had to do the bulk of the game-planning at the bowl site. Now we actually get a little more time on the front end to do that stuff. That obviously helps."

After last year's bowl win, Lilly seemed like a potential offensive coordinator candidate following Bobo's departure. But Richt decided to hire Schottenheimer instead. Lilly isn't likely to stay at Georgia on Smart's staff, according to a source, and could choose to branch out elsewhere instead of joining Richt in Miami.

This game should serve as another audition for Lilly, who seemingly would want a shot at an offensive coordinator position somewhere.

"I think everybody, when you get in this profession, you'd love to have that opportunity," Lilly said in November. "I was glad it came up when it did, and we were able to execute and win the (Belk Bowl)."

Lilly joined Georgia's staff in 2008 and has had a solid run with his tight ends groups. He has coached Aron White, Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch during his time and has earned a great deal of admiration from his players.

"He's shown that he can do it," sophomore tight end Jeb Blazevich said. "He's shown everyone that we should trust him, and we respect him. We're very comfortable with him calling plays."

Blazevich is doing his part not to think of the TaxSlayer Bowl being Lilly's final game at Georgia. But the sophomore from Charlotte, North Carolina, does understand the business aspect of the job.

While he'd love for Lilly to return, he's hopeful his position coach will find a landing spot elsewhere and be successful.

"Of course I'd love for him to stay, but I need to buy into whoever (new head coach Kirby) Smart brings on board," Blazevich said. "I really have to sell out for that. I love Coach Lilly, and he's one of the reasons I came to Georgia. No matter what, I know he's going to make the best decision for his family, which is what I really care about."