Georgia, TCU an unlikely pair for what should be intriguing title game

Georgia was supposed to be here all along. TCU was supposed to finish seventh in the Big 12.

That’s nothing new to TCU, which was motivated by Michigan’s obvious confidence heading into the Fiesta Bowl. Rather than controlling the line of scrimmage, the Wolverines were outgained on the ground and rocked by the Horned Frogs’ aggressiveness, resulting in an unexpected defensive collapse.

Whether TCU can do the same to Georgia will be the game’s deciding factor. And while the challenge is daunting, that Ohio State was able to force the Bulldogs into an up-and-down shootout in the Peach Bowl suggests the defending national champions could struggle putting the clamps on one of the top offenses in the Bowl Subdivision.

The Frogs rank third nationally in scoring (41.1 points per game), 11th in yards per play (6.9), eighth in quarterback efficiency (160.5) and seventh in rushing touchdowns (36).

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‘Now we’ve got to take care of business,’ said Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett. ‘We’ve got to prepare. We’ve got nine days or whatever to play a really good TCU team. So we’ve got to prepare our butts off.’

Georgia will be the fourth opponent TCU has faced this season ranked inside the top 20 nationally in yards allowed per play, joining Texas, Iowa State and Michigan. The offense struggled against the Longhorns, averaging just 3.9 yards per play in grinding out a 17-10 win, and 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.

Frogs’ balanced offensive attack

The Frogs were able to wobble Michigan with one of the most impressive offensive performances on the season: 263 yards rushing, the most the Wolverines allowed since being gashed by Wisconsin during the COVID season, and another 225 yards through the air on an overall average of 6.9 yards per play.

Michigan’s approach on defense and perceived strength along the line of scrimmage were negated by tempo. Against Georgia, the Frogs will try to establish a similarly balanced offensive attack built around quarterback Max Duggan, who had four combined touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl despite struggling with his downfield accuracy.

Ohio State was able to force Georgia into uncomfortable territory without establishing a consistent running game. The Buckeyes ran for 119 yards on 32 carries with four gains of 12 or more yards, led by quarterback C.J. Stroud’s 27-yard scramble with under one minute left in the fourth quarter. But Stroud threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 10.2 yards per attempt, marking a second sour game in a row for Georgia’s pass defense after suffocating teams for most of the regular season.

Defensive issues for Bulldogs

Before 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 under wraps, Georgia has allowed seven touchdown passes on 9.9 yards per throw in the past two games — a noticeable defensive swoon at the very worst time.

But TCU will have to get more out of Duggan. The Heisman Trophy runner-up has been inconsistent in the passing game, hitting on a combined 32 passes in 65 attempts with three touchdowns and three interceptions in games against Kansas State and Michigan. While his impact remains unquestioned, the Frogs can’t flourish against Georgia if the senior struggles connecting with Quentin Johnson and the rest of his receiver corps.

Blueprint for an upset

Boiled down, the championship game will be decided by Duggan’s accuracy and ability to loosen up one of college football’s most intimidating defensive fronts. For TCU, the clearest path to victory is to rely on pace and unpredictability in forcing Georgia to go punch-for-punch on offense.

Even then, though, the Peach Bowl proved that Georgia can win in multiple ways against the best teams in the FBS. While outside the program’s preferred comfort zone under coach Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs won’t be intimated by the Horned Frogs’ speed of play after battling out of multiple double-digit deficits against Stroud and the Buckeyes.

Georgia trailed by 14 points in the first quarter and again entering the fourth quarter. But the Bulldogs chipped in a field goal to trim the OSU lead to 38-27, struck deep on a 76-yard touchdown pass to draw within a field goal and then marched 72 yards on five plays to take the 42-41 lead with under a minute left. The comeback was driven by Bennett, who rebounded from an uneven start to complete 11 of his final 13 throws and finished with 398 yards and three scores.

In TCU, Bennett and the Bulldogs will meet 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 only 54.3% of attempts, fourth-best in the Power Five, with 16 interceptions, sixth among the Power Five.

Look for Georgia to combat TCU’s speed and aggressiveness by relying on the running game. While not as reliant on the ground 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 dominant in the red zone.

With the Fiesta Bowl as the most shining example, TCU is capable of slowing down Kenny McIntosh and the Bulldogs’ backfield. Michigan ran for 180 yards, but 54 came on the game’s opening play. From there, the Wolverines averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and failed to move bodies on the line of scrimmage.

In the end, TCU might be capable of forcing Georgia to at least partially abandon the run and rely on Bennett to carry the offense. That worked against Ohio State, but just barely.

The blueprint is there for an upset: TCU has to be the aggressor and force Georgia into a reactive role, offsetting the distinct gap in overall talent and depth. Failing to do so could result in a double-digit loss and the Bulldogs’ second championship in a row.

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