Javon Bullard shines for No. 1 Georgia in national championship game

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Javon Bullard needed only a half to make a national championship difference.

The Georgia defensive back made big plays in another big game and helped No. 1 Georgia defend its College Football Playoff national title with a 65-7 victory against No. 3 TCU on Monday at SoFi Stadium. The sophomore had two interceptions and a fumble recovery that turned into 17 points for the Bulldogs. It all came in the first half.

Bullard left the game because of a shoulder injury – coach Kirby Smart said his collarbone came out – with seconds remaining in the first half. He did not return.

It didn’t matter. Georgia led by 31 points when Bullard exited the game. He was named the game’s Defensive Player of the Game.

“As a kid, you always dream of moments like this,” he said. “And just to see those moments and accomplishments and things like that come true; it’s just a surreal feeling. I’m extremely blessed to be in the position I am.”

It was an encore performance after Bullard was named Defensive MVP of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl national semifinal game after a sack, a pass defensed and three tackles in the 42-41 win against Ohio State at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“He’s just a dog, man,” safety Christopher Smith said. “Everybody doesn’t see everything I see every day with a lot of these guys, just the amount of determination and time and sweat that they put into the game, and their freak athletes at the end of the day. When you have the intelligence on top of it, man, it makes for a great player.”

The big plays started early Monday.

On TCU’s second drive, wide receiver Derius Davis rushed around left end. As he began to turn upfield near the Horned Frogs’ sideline, Smith ripped the ball from his hands. Bullard emerged from the pile with the ball on the 33-yard line. The Bulldogs took possession and made a 24-yard field goal to take a 10-0 lead with 6:51 remaining.

And then came the interceptions, Bullard’s first of his career.

Trailing 24-7 and facing third-and-7 at its 23-yard line, TCU’s Max Duggan attempted a deep pass down the middle to standout receiver Quentin Johnston. Duggan overthrew the pass. Bullard outran Johnston and caught the ball at Georgia’s 34-yard line. The Bulldogs took advantage of the possession by driving 66 yards on 11 plays to take a 31-7 lead on a Kendall Milton 1-yard touchdown run.

The next TCU possession became the next Bullard interception.

Again under pressure, Duggan underthrew Davis, who was covered well, at the right hash. Bullard intercepted the pass and returned it three yards to TCU’s 22-yard line. Georgia scored two plays later on a 22-yard pass from Stetson Bennett to Adonai Mitchell to take a 38-7 lead at halftime.

Bullard and Georgia’s defense allowed just seven points, with the lone score set up after a long completion on a blown coverage.

“We dug such a big hole for ourselves,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said. “We never could quite get them stopped defensively. We never could quite get out of our own way on offense.”

Georgia 65, TCU 7

Some of Bullard’s best games this season have come against the Bulldogs’ biggest rivals. He had three tackles against Auburn, a season-high eight against Florida, seven in the showdown against Tennessee, and six against LSU in the SEC Championship game.

“That just shows he’s not complacent, really, because he just kept playing better as the season came along,” teammate Smael Mondon said.

Bullard was credited with 45 tackles, 32 solo, and three passes defensed before Monday’s title game.

Smart said Bullard is an epitome of Georgia’s program because has been affected by his shoulder most of the season but would never put on a black “no contact” jersey during practices, according to Smart.

“He embodies what our culture is, which is toughness,” Smart said. “And I have a very serious appreciation for that because they do it for a university I love. And it means a ton to me when they sacrifice like that for our university.”