College football season is pretty much over, friends. Now that we’ve rung in the New Year, we’ve got just one game left, and it’s the National Championship.
The TCU Horned Frogs vs. the Georgia Bulldogs.
Let’s talk about it.
Just one more week…⏳— College Football Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) January 3, 2023
…until the 2023 #CFBPlayoff #NationalChampionship takes the field at @SoFiStadium! ?? @LASEC • @ESPN • @ESPNCFB • @ESPNPR pic.twitter.com/W9ZPMUt14W
Texas Christian University Horned Frogs
TCU is the team that wasn’t supposed to be here. They’ve gone from unranked in the preseason all the way into the College Football Playoff, through Michigan, and on to the Title Game. That is some unreal, Cinderella-type stuff.
The Horned Frogs obviously got off to a hot start, beating Colorado, FCS Tarleton, and SMU in the first three weeks of the season, but I don’t think anyone was really tracking this as a standout year until they beat then #18 Oklahoma in Week 5. Victories at Kansas, at home vs. Oklahoma State and Kansas State, and at West Virginia followed, and suddenly the college football world was wondering, “Is this for real?” The Horned Frogs then won at Texas and Baylor and at home against Iowa State to finish the regular season perfect, and though they dropped the Big 12 Championship to K-State in overtime, that resume was more than enough to see them into the College Football Playoff.
They beat Michigan over weekend, and here we are.
It’s not fair to say that senior QB Max Duggan supplied TCU’s entire offense this season, but he’s certainly been one Hell of a good player for this team. Duggan has gone 253/397 passing for an unbelievable 3,546 yards (63.7%) and 32 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions. He’s also taken some 24 sacks. Duggan has also been his team’s third-leading rusher, having taken 127 carries for 461 yards (3.6 yards/carry) and 8 rushing touchdowns. That’s outstanding, especially when paired with RBs Kendre Miller and Emari Demercado, who’ve run for more than 2000 yards, collectively, and 23 touchdowns on a whopping 6.0 yards/carry. Meanwhile, Duggan’s go-to receiver has been WR Quentin Johnston, who’s got 59 catches for 1,066 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Bottom line, as we saw in the Playoff against Michigan, is that these guys can score from anywhere. Maybe that’s Demercado breaking off a 69-yard touchdown run against a top five rushing defense. Maybe that’s Jonhston taking a simple crossing pattern 76 yards to the house against a Wolverine blitz. It’s not all Duggan, but Duggan reads defenses quickly, gets the ball out to the guy who can make that matter, and runs well enough to add quite a bit to his team’s option-based rushing attack.
What surprised us in the Playoff was how well TCU’s defense played. The Horned Frogs came into the game against Michigan with the 70th ranked rushing defense, allowing 150.8 yards/game on 4.4 yards/carry. Considering how pass-happy the Big 12 tends to be as a conference, this gave cause for concern.
However, TCU’s rushing defense held up well in the Playoff, especially early and most especially against runs up the middle. Michigan found some success with big plays down the field and with their outside running game, but they absolutely could not get much between the tackles. The Wolverines finished with a respectable 186 yards rushing on 4.7 yards/carry, but they went just 3/13 on 3rd downs and 0/2 on 4th downs, and they gave up 13 tackles-for-loss. This set up a tough day for QB J.J. McCarthy, who threw for 343 yards but also *2* pick-sixes, and he took 4 sacks.
Maybe we underestimated TCU’s defense. They have some 30 sacks this season plus 16 interceptions. They may give up yards, and even some points, but they also play tough, physical defense, and that forces opponent mistakes.
One final note is that TCU K Griffin Kell made his only field goal attempt of the Playoff. On the season, Kell is 17/19 on field goals with a miss from 30+ and one from 50+ this season.
Pick 6 to get the Fiesta started ?#GoFrogs #DFWBig12Team #FiestaFrogs #CFBPlayoff pic.twitter.com/pAgARBDQ2I— TCU Football (@TCUFootball) January 3, 2023
If folks were surprised when TCU made the Playoff, well, no one was surprised when Georgia did. The Bulldogs came into the 2022 season as the defending National Champions and as the (mostly) consensus best team in the nation. If they didn’t necessarily blow every single opponent out in the first half of every game, they showed up strong in almost all of the games when they needed their very best stuff. For example, the Bulldogs played a surprisingly close first half at home against Kent State before winning, 39-22, and they also needed 14 points in the 4th quarter to beat a middling Missouri team, 26-22. But then they freaking destroyed much better teams, too, including Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State, and LSU.
What can you do?
Georgia QB Stetson Bennett is as good as any player in college football. Bennett has gone 292/429 passing for 3,823 yards (68.1%) and 23 touchdowns against just 7 interceptions and 9 sacks. He’s backed by at least 3 top-level running backs in Kenny McIntosh, Daijun Edwards, and Kendall Milton. Collectively, those guys ran for almost 2100 yards and 24 touchdowns on about 6 yards/carry. Georgia’s best receiver is TE Brock Bowers, arguably the best tight end in all of college football. Bowers has 56 catches for 790 yards and 6 touchdowns. WR Ladd McConkey and RB Kenny McIntosh come 2nd and 3rd, respectively, while TE Darnell Washington comes 4th.
It’s notable then that two of Georgia’s top four receivers are tight ends and that another is a running back. As we saw in the Playoff, the Bulldogs can push the ball deep down the field, but mostly, that’s not what they’re trying to do. Georgia wants to run the ball, establish the line of scrimmage, and then throw to their big tight ends or to their running backs out of the back field to keep defenses honest. When they had to go more to their wide receivers late against Ohio State, that was the Bulldogs playing outside of their comfort zone.
Granted, they made that work.
Georgia’s defense is built around the power of their elite front seven. The Bulldogs have the nation’s #2 rushing defense, allowing just 80.0 yards/game on just 3.0 yards/carry. But yeah, it helps that the Bulldogs’ defense almost always plays with the lead. Still, this is a defense with 30 sacks, 10 interceptions, and 8 forced fumbles plus 6 fumble recoveries. Ohio State’s outstanding offensive line did a very nice job against Georgia’s defense, but they still allowed 4 sacks and 6 total tackles for loss, and some of that came in crunch time. OSU also ran for just 119 yards on 3.7 yards/carry, 27 of which came on a single scramble by OSU QB C.J. Stroud.
Georgia K Jack Podlesny has been very good this season, but it’s worth noting that he missed 2/4 field goals in the Playoff. As things turned out, the Bulldogs really needed those points. I wouldn’t say that the Bulldogs were lucky to win, but the game was a Hell of a lot closer than it probably needed to be because of those missed kicks.
? ??????? ?????????? | Game Fourteen#GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/LIwr2oi6VP— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) January 3, 2023
Georgia plays a broadly similar style to Michigan, but they play that style better. This sets up a few obvious match-ups.
In the Playoff, it looked very much like TCU won along the line of scrimmage while Georgia lost. TCU rang up 4 sacks and 13 tackles-for-loss while controlling Michigan’s power running game throughout most of their contest. By comparison, Georgia only gave up 2 sacks and 4 tackles for loss, but they also ran for just 135 yards and it seemed like Stetson Bennett was mostly running for his life, especially early in the game. But he rarely looked comfortable in the pocket overall, and oh by the way, he finished with 7 carries for -18 yards.
So. If TCU can ring up another 4 sacks and hold Georgia under 200 yards rushing, then they have every chance in what will almost certainly be a competitive ballgame. However, If Georgia can get their running game going and keep Bennett’s jersey clean, the Dawgs are almost certainly going to walk away with their second straight National Championship.
The line on this game opened at TCU (+13.5), but it has since slid to TCU (+12). I’ve written that in terms of TCU because I would probably take them plus the points. I don’t know if Ohio State is just way better than we thought they would be, or if Michigan was worse, or if maybe Georgia was a little rusty. However, nothing we saw this past weekend inspires confidence that the Dawgs will win in a blowout, and so here we are. Maybe Georgia will win — probably they will — but this still ought to be a close, competitive contest.
The National Championship is set for January 9th, starting at 7:30 pm ET at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. This is just outside of Los Angeles, so basically the Natty is in LA, the one part of the country that barely cares about college football at all. Go figure. ESPN has coverage, starting at 7:00 pm. This was always unavoidable, but it’s still groan worthy for the most part. ESPN does a comprehensive job with coverage on multiple channels from multiple angles, and that’s good, but their commentary almost always leaves something to be desired. I confess that we watched both Playoff games on mute at my house while we spun old Fleetwood Mac records.
Good experience. We’ll probably do that again this coming Monday.
As I said, we ought to be in for a good game. Either way, enjoy it now because this is it for college football for a good, long while.
? ????? ??? ????‼️ ?— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) January 1, 2023
Here's to a great 2️⃣0️⃣2️⃣3️⃣ ?!#GoArmy pic.twitter.com/ia0rxYhJ4L
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