The No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs can become the first college football team to repeat as national champions since the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2011 and 2012, but to do so they will have to fend off the upstart No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs of the Big 12 in the College Football Playoff national championship at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
Kirby Smart’s team has edge in talent and big-game experience, but the Horned Frogs silenced the doubters with their performance in the semifinals against Michigan.
Talented Offensive Line
The Bulldogs utilize a balanced offense run by coordinator Todd Monken, but whether they are running or passing, it all starts with the guys up front.
The Georgia offensive line, which features center Sedrick Van Pran and left tackle Broderick Jones, could get right tackle Warren McClendon back for this game. The O-line was a finalist for the Joe Moore Award, given to the country’s best unit.
Thanks to their line, the Bulldogs can run to the tune of 5.5 yards per carry and pass it (293 yards per game) just as effectively. Quarterback Stetson Bennett has taken just nine sacks.
Bennett Just Wins
The Heisman Trophy finalist is 28-3 as a starter at Georgia. Two of those losses came against Alabama teams ranked in the top four in the country and the other came after Bennett suffered a dislocated shoulder while giving his team a 14-0 lead.
Entering the college football semifinals, quarterbacks trailing by 14 or more points in the fourth quarter of a college football playoff were a combined 0-19. Bennett became the first to overcome that situation by going 11 of 13 for 207 yards and two touchdowns to rally the Bulldogs past Ohio State.
“I think it’s his mental disposition,” Smart told the media of his QB, who needs 71 yards to become Georgia’s all-time leading passer and 177 yards to become the school’s first 4,000-yard passer. “He doesn’t think of the moment any different than the first quarter. He is a processor. A deep thinker and he doesn’t let the moment affect him.”
Bowers in Tight Spot
Brock Bowers hasn’t been the red zone threat he was last season and is sure to draw special attention from the TCU defense, particularly if fellow tight end Darnell Washington can’t go, but he is a matchup nightmare who opens things up for other players.
The California native and Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end, he hasn’t played a game in his home state since his junior year in high school. Bowers has racked up 112 catches for 1,672 yards and 19 touchdowns in two seasons with the Bulldogs.
If the Horned Frogs take away Bowers, look for Arian Smith, Ladd McConkey and others to help pick up the slack for the Bulldogs. Smith had three catches for 129 yards and a touchdowns in the semifinals while Ladd McConkey was second on the team in catches and yards.
“That’s the thing that is unique about this team,” TCU head coach Sonny Dykes told the media of Georgia’s varied offense. “Most of the time you play against a good team, there’s two or three guys, you say, ‘Look, we’ve got to really take this guy away,’ but Georgia has so many good players and guys that are really exceptional talents.”
Win on Defense
While TCU will surely find ways to exploit the Georgia defense by looking at what Ohio State did in the semifinals, the fact is that game was an outlier in an otherwise solid season.
This unit isn’t near
ly as good as the one that led the Bulldogs to the national championship last season, but it has surrendered just 14.8 points per game while ranking first in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (79.93).
The pass rush will need to get home on TCU quarterback Max Duggan, himself a Heisman Trophy finalist, who threw for 3,500 yards and 32 touchdowns, but who has been sacked 24 times this season and 88 times in his four-year career.
Against Ohio State, the Bulldogs had a pressure rate of 43.2% and a blitz rate of 45.5%, well above their seasonal average of 27.4%. When they sent five or more guys, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was 11 of 18 for 175 yards.
The key players are lineman Jalen Carter, linebackers Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon Jr. and safeties Christopher Smith and Malaki Starks.