Neither Georgia nor TCU are willing to buy into “the Bulldogs vs. the Underdogs” narrative ahead of the College Football Playoff championship game on Monday at SoFi Stadium.
The Bulldogs are considered the favorite for the title game, having won 16 straight games, including last year’s championship game.
“We just think about it as another game,” Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson said when asked about the narrative during CFP media day on Saturday. “… We get another chance to win another game.”
TCU was predicted to finish in the bottom half of the Big 12, by college football pundits, before winning 12 straight games and reaching the conference championship.
The Horned Frogs did lose in overtime against Kansas State in the conference championship game but had proven enough to earn one of four spots in the College Football Playoff.
“Our group has had a little bit of a magical ride,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said. “I think the biggest difference is that it’s our first year.
“We were still trying to get to know the guys. We’re still trying to get a culture established.”
The title game will also give TCU an opportunity to establish itself in the all-time series with Georgia.
It will be just the fifth time the two teams have played against each other and the first since the 2016 Liberty Bowl. The Bulldogs beat the Horned Frogs 31-23 in coach Kirby Smart’s first season.
“We’re looking forward to Monday night,” Dykes said. “We know it’s going to be a big challenge for us, but our guys have never backed down from challenges and they have a lot of confidence in themselves and our program and what we’re trying to do.”
WHEN TCU HAS THE BALL: Quarterback Max Duggan and the Horned Frogs will need to carry that confidence into the game against a defense that is ranked 11th in the nation for yards allowed per game (304.6).
Georgia’s co-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp views TCU as an “experienced” and “balanced” offense, led by Duggan, that will use an even mix of pass and run plays.
Duggan will have to use his skill set as a scrambling quarterback to create explosive plays and take advantage of red zone opportunities.
TCU leads the country with 21 plays that resulted in 50 or more yards this season. TCU had seven of 15 or more yards against Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl.
“We work on scramble drills a lot,” Muschamp said. “Obviously not enough. We gave up 14 points in the Ohio State game on scramble passes.”
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud completed 23 of 34 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Peach Bowl against Georgia. Ohio State also turned all five trips to the red zone into points, but still lost.
Receiver Quentin Johnston, who led TCU in receptions (59), yards (1,066) and touchdowns (6), could be a player to watch against Georgia’s secondary that is coming off a lackluster effort.
Kendre Miller has led the TCU backfield with 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns on 224 carries this season. The running back’s status is questionable for the title game after suffering an injury against Michigan.
Downey alumnus Emari Demercado produced a breakout game in place of Miller, rushing for 150 yards and a touchdown. Duggan also also had two rushing touchdowns in his last outing.
WHEN GEORGIA HAS THE BALL: Quarterback Stetson Bennett will conclude the sixth year of college football in an effort to lead the Bulldogs to back-to-back national championships.
Joe Gillespie, the TCU defensive coordinator, is tasked with trying to scheme up a defense that may present something a little different than what Bennett has gone up against throughout his career.
“We’re going to have to disguise our looks as much as we can and hope we hit home on them more times than we don’t,” Gillespie said. “… We are going to have to win on early downs, first and second down. Then get them in a more predictable situation. ”
A predictable situation could benefit a TCU defense that has scored five touchdowns this season (four interceptions, and one fumble recovery).
The Horned Frogs had two interceptions returned for touchdowns, including Bud Clark’s 41-yard return for the first score of the Fiesta Bowl.
The backfield behind Bennett features a stable of running backs led by Kenny McIntosh and Daijun Edwards. The duo has rushed for 1,518 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.
Sophomore tight end Brock Bowers is another important player to watch for the Bulldogs’ offense.
“(Georgia has) a Swiss Army knife in Bowers at the tight end who can do it all,” Gillespie said. “This guy is going to split out, he’s going to be in the backfield, on the line of scrimmage, blocking. They’re going to hand off to him on jet sweeps.”
Bowers is the 2022 John Mackey Award winner, which is awarded to the nation’s best tight end. He led the Bulldogs with 790 receiving yards and six touchdowns.