Oddsmakers had No. 1 Georgia favored by 13.5 points at kickoff. That’s the largest point spread in a national championship game since college football started staging holding them in 1998. It turns out the betting markets badly underestimated the Bulldogs, who made third-ranked TCU look like Kent State.
That’s not fair to the Flashes, who played Georgia tough for a half in September. The Horned Frogs had one competitive moment, getting their deficit down to 10-7 in the first quarter, before Georgia rolled to an easy victory. The victory was astonishing in its completeness.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett was brilliant in his final college game. He passed for 304 yards with four touchdowns and ran for two more scores. Bennett took one snap in the fourth quarter before taking the rest of the night off.
“What he did tonight was truly amazing,” Smart said. “Probably had his best game of his career.”
Ohio State embarrassed Georgia’s great defense in the Peach Bowl. That group earned redemption by shutting down TCU’s high-scoring offense.
“We had about a perfect night,” Smith said.
To have a chance, the Horned Frogs needed to play great and catch Georgia on an off-night. Neither of those things happened. TCU’s improbable, special run to the championship game ended with a humbling defeat to the nation’s best team.
Before the game, ESPN asked TCU coach Sonny Dykes how his team could pull an upset.
“We believe we can, most importantly,” Dykes said.
It didn’t take long to see that Dykes was wrong. His players didn’t really believe they could win. And who can blame them? Everyone could see that Georgia was too big, too fast and too good for TCU.
The Bulldogs scored every time they had the ball in the first half. By the time TCU finally stopped them, they led 38-7. The Bulldogs scored another touchdown when they got the ball back again, forced a three-and-out by TCU, and then scored another TD. More than 20 minutes remained in the game, but it was over.
The Bulldogs didn’t just show they have a big edge over TCU in player talent. Georgia’s coaches also outflanked their TCU counterparts. The Bulldogs were more focused and physical. Georgia escaped with a victory in the Peach Bowl after falling behind early. This time, the Bulldogs took the fight to TCU from the start and never relented.
Afterwards, the smell of cigar smoke filled the corridors around Georgia’s locker room.
“This is what we do it for all year, for that moment in the locker room,” Georgia’s Kenny McIntosh said while puffing on a cigar.
This was the crowning achievement of a new era of Georgia football. Last season’s national championship wasn’t a one-off. After falling short of expectations for so long, the Bulldogs are built to keep winning big for longer than they’ve ever done it.
Georgia had all-time great Herschel Walker for three years, won one national championship and then didn’t play for another over nearly 40 years. The Bulldogs went 20 years between SEC titles. Conference rivals Florida, Auburn, LSU, Alabama and Tennessee had great teams win championships. Georgia Tech did it, too.
Georgia football was stuck on mediocre for a long time. Then former athletic director Greg McGarity hired Smart, who’d played for the Bulldogs. He took the job with the understanding that Georgia would pour money into the program, like Saban had done at Alabama. Smart got everything he wanted and, now, so has Georgia.
There was a time when it wasn’t clear that would happen. Smart’s Bulldogs played for a national championship in Year 2, losing to Alabama, and then didn’t make it back to the CFP over the next three years. Smart erred in picking quarterback Jake Fromm over Justin Fields. As Alabama, LSU and Clemson won national titles with wide-open offensive attacks, Smart insisted that he wasn’t stuck in his “man ball” ways of grinding out yards on the ground.
Smart first proved that by hiring Todd Monken, an ex-NFL coordinator, to modernize Georgia’s offense. Monken helped make Bennett, the former walk-on, a bona fide star. The Bulldogs don’t have the big-play threats at wide receiver like other title contenders. So, Monken fashioned an attack that emphasizes throwing passes to the perimeter and highlights talented tight end Brock Bowers.
The Horned Frogs had no chance to stop that formula. They had a plan to be aggressive on defense. Bennett and Monken took advantage of that eagerness. They had TCU’s defenders going one way while the play went the other.
Bennett’s 21-yard touchdown run was a beautiful display of deception, timing and precision. His fake handoff to Daijun Edwards was so convincing that TCU’s entire defensive front shifted left. Bennett kept the ball and ran the other direction and scored without being touched. Another crafty run fake by Bennett fooled a defensive back who was supposed to be tracking Ladd McConkey. He was wide open to catch Bennett’s 37-yard TD pass for a 14-7 lead.
After the Bulldogs turned a turnover into three points, it looked as if TCU might finally stop them on their next drive. Bennett kept them going. He sidestepped a blitzing defender and ran 11 yards to convert a third-and-10.
Said Smart: “He knew what was coming and he set the guy up.”
Bennett ended that drive with a 6-yard TD run, untouched again, for a 24-7 lead. Now the Bulldogs were rolling. TCU couldn’t stop them. No one could beat them all season. Smart shouldn’t worry that anyone associated with Georgia football will ever take it for granted.