Prior to Tuesday night, John Lilly had never called offensive plays in a football game. Based on the Georgia Bulldogs' offensive performance in the Belk Bowl, he needs to get used to that role.
Primarily known as the Dawgs' tight ends coach, a stud recruiter and a co-leader of Georgia's special teams endeavors, Lilly tried on yet another new hat in the absence of newly departed offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. The result of the experiment: more of the same.
That's a good thing for an offense that set a school record for points scored, as pointed out by David Paschall of the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Twitter.
Against a vaunted Louisville defense coordinated by former Bulldog assistant Todd Grantham, Georgia's offense continued a proven recipe for success by relying heavily on a stout ground attack and spicing things up with a (mostly) steady passing attack.
Along the way, Georgia racked up 291 rushing yards (the most surrendered by Louisville this season) and scored 37 points (the third-highest tally allowed by the Cardinals).
In doing so, Lilly made head coach Mark Richt's job all the more difficult—at least in the short term—as the offseason approaches.
For Richt and a high-profile program like Georgia, a big, sexy hire would be the popular decision. After staging a coup and luring Jeremy Pruitt away from Florida State just days after he won a national championship last January, similar expectations are seeping out of Athens already.
In light of that, promoting a steady but unglorified tight ends coach could be interpreted as a sign of weakness, a resignation to mediocrity or, at best, the expiring of outside options.
But all of those assumptions would be misinterpretations of an increasingly obvious situation with the Bulldogs.
Georgia football is trending in the right direction. Pruitt's move to Athens and, ironically, Bobo's departure are both testaments to this. And though the 2014 campaign ended short of an SEC championship and College Football Playoff bid, winning 10 games with a new starter at quarterback, a new defensive regime and without Todd Gurley is a feat in and of itself.
If this season was disappointing, what was 2010's losing season?
Georgia has come a long way since that 6-7 campaign four years ago, and Lilly has been instrumental in that growth. Folks may not have realized that until Tuesday evening, but his ability to fill in for Bobo, one of the best (and yet most maligned) play-callers in the country, was nothing shy of impressive.
And as Seth Emerson of Macon's Telegraph pointed out at halftime, Lilly filled the role with play-calling that "looked a lot like Bobo's."
Imitation may indeed be the sincerest form of flattery, but the imitation itself is what's most noteworthy here—not the flattery. Lilly wasn't paying homage to his old cohort or simply filling a blank space by going through the motions on Tuesday.
He was earning a job. And it was fun to watch.
Lilly relied on the best player on the field, Nick Chubb, with a patient, almost obvious wisdom. Chubb paid him back with 269 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
He put his players in a position to succeed, and as a result, Georgia converted 12 third-down opportunities.
He took the offense and made it his own, and the unit responded with 490 yards against a defense that ranked fifth in the nation in yards allowed per contest at 293.
From the outside looking in, Lilly looked mighty comfortable up in the press box. Richt should give him a chance to make it his new home.
Last year, as Richt was catching heat for Grantham's performance as defensive coordinator, he told Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that continuity among the coaching staff was "a good thing for Georgia."
Grantham ultimately left of his own accord, but if continuity mattered then for a struggling unit, why would it not prove all the more valuable for a record-setting offense? And who could bring more continuity than John Lilly?
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of NCAA.com.