Georgia, TCU, an unlikely pair of college football playoff title games
Georgia was supposed to be here all along. TCU was supposed to finish seventh in the Big 12.
The Bulldogs will chase a second straight national championship as prohibitive favorites against the Horned Frogs after both teams narrowly escaped the college football playoff semifinals.
That’s nothing new for TCU, which was buoyed by Michigan’s evident confidence ahead of the Fiesta Bowl. Rather than controlling the line of scrimmage, the Wolverines were overtaken on the ground and rattled by the aggressiveness of the Horned Frogs, resulting in an unexpected defensive collapse.
Whether TCU can do the same with Georgia will be the deciding factor in the game. And while the challenge is daunting, the fact that Ohio State was able to force the Bulldogs to a shootout in the Peach Bowl suggests that the Defending national champions might struggle to put the clamps on one of the Bowl Subdivision’s top offenses.
The Frogs rank third nationally in points (41.1 points per game), 11th in yards per play (6.9), eighth in quarterback efficiency (160.5) and seventh in touchdowns (36).
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“Now we have to take care of business,” Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett said. “We have to prepare. We have nine days or whatever to face a really good TCU team. So we have to prepare.”
Georgia will be the fourth opponent TCU has faced this season, ranked in the national top 20 in yards allowed per play, joining Texas, Iowa State and Michigan. The offense struggled against the Longhorns, averaging just 3.9 yards per play to claim a 17-10 victory, then used three takeaways to spark a 62-14 rout of the Cyclones – the only TCU game since beating Oklahoma on Oct. 1 to be decided by more than 10 points.
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Frog Balanced Offensive Attack
The Frogs were able to rock Michigan with one of the most impressive offensive performances of the season: 263 rushing yards, the most the Wolverines have allowed since being gassed by Wisconsin during the COVID season, and 225 additional yards through the air on an overall average of 6.9 yards per play.
Michigan’s approach to defense and perceived strength along the line of scrimmage was negated by the tempo. Against Georgia, the Frogs will try to establish an equally balanced offensive offense around quarterback Max Duggan, who had four combined touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl despite struggling with his accuracy on the field.
Ohio State was able to force Georgia into uncomfortable territory without establishing a consistent running game. The Buckeyes rushed for 119 yards on 32 carries with four gains of 12 or more yards, led by quarterback CJ Stroud’s 27-yard run with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter. But Stroud threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 10.2 yards per attempt, scoring a sour second straight game for Georgia’s pass defense after stifling teams for most of the regular season.
Defensive issues for the Bulldogs
Prior to the SEC Championship game against LSU, the Bulldogs had allowed 11 passing touchdowns with eight interceptions. After giving up 502 yards to the Tigers and failing to keep Stroud a secret, Georgia has allowed seven touchdowns on 9.9 yards per throw in the past two games — a notable defensive swoon at the worst possible time.
But TCU will have to get the best out of Duggan. The Heisman Trophy finalist has been inconsistent in the passing game, completing a total of 32 passes on 65 attempts with three touchdowns and three interceptions in games against Kansas State and Michigan. While his impact remains undisputed, the Frogs can’t thrive against Georgia if the elder struggles to connect with Quentin Johnson and the rest of his receiving corps.
Plan for an upheaval
In summary, the championship game will be decided by Duggan’s accuracy and ability to soften one of the most intimidating defensive fronts in college football. For TCU, the clearest path to victory is to rely on pace and unpredictability to force Georgia to go blow for blow on offense.
Even then, however, the Peach Bowl proved that Georgia can win in many ways against the best teams in the FBS. Despite being outside the program’s preferred comfort zone under coach Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs won’t be intimidated by the Horned Frogs’ speed of play after battling multiple double-digit deficits against Stroud and the Buckeyes.
Georgia trailed by 14 points in the first quarter and again in the fourth quarter. But the Bulldogs scored a field goal to cut OSU’s lead to 38-27, hit deep on a 76-yard touchdown pass to draw in a field goal, then walked 72 yards over five games to take a 42-41 lead with less than a minute remaining. The comeback was led by Bennett, who bounced back from an uneven start to complete 11 of his last 13 throws and finished with 398 yards and three scores.
At TCU, Bennett and the Bulldogs will encounter an opportunistic pass defense that made huge strides in the second half of the regular season. Overall, the Frogs head into the championship game allowing opponents to complete just 54.3% of attempts, fourth-best in the Power Five, with 16 steals, sixth in the Power Five.
Seek out Georgia to battle TCU’s speed and aggression building on the racing game. While not as pitch-dependent this season compared to 2021, when the Bulldogs ran the ball on 57.2% of plays, the offense can be brutally effective in establishing physical play up front and dominating. in the red zone.
With the Fiesta Bowl as the brightest example, TCU is able to slow down Kenny McIntosh and the Bulldogs backfield. Michigan rushed for 180 yards, but 54 came on the game’s opener. From there, the Wolverines averaged just 3.2 yards per run and failed to move bodies over the line of scrimmage.
Ultimately, TCU might be able to force Georgia to at least partially drop out of the run and rely on Bennett to carry the offense. It worked against Ohio State, but barely.
The plan is there for an upset: TCU is to be the aggressor and force Georgia into a reactive role, making up for the distinct gap in talent and depth. Failure to do so could result in a double-digit loss and the Bulldogs’ second straight championship.