ATHENS – Kirby Smart has seen to it that Georgia moves on from its historic and memorable 42-41 shootout win over Ohio State in a clash of college football titans last Saturday night.
The Bulldogs’ fans will talk about that New Year’s Eve Peach Bowl victory for ages, as it has continued to dominate conversations and social media posts even as the national championship game closes in.
The fact Georgia opened as a two-touchdown favorite TCU probably has something to do with that, as many anticipate Smart and his 14-0 team finishing the job at 7:30 pm next Monday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
Smart, however, has reminded his team humility remains one week away, and there were plenty of things for the Bulldogs to clean up after surviving a potent Ohio State offense and overcoming an aggressive Buckeyes’ defense that held UGA to 2-of-10 on third-down conversions.
The 13-1 Horned Frogs, meanwhile, entered the game with the momentum of a 51-45 upset win over Big Ten champion Michigan in the CFP Fiesta Bowl Semifinal last Saturday in Arizona.
TCU has beaten six ranked opponents — to Georgia’s four — and coach Sonny Dykes has openly shared his team’s confidence and sense of belonging on the championship stage.
Steven Johnson, who expertly covers the Horned Frogs for the highly esteemed Fort Worth Star-Telegram, took time to provide DawgNation with an early look at TCU as the teams have both begun their “game week” preparation:
1. What makes TCU quarterback Max Duggan so special, on and off the field?
Steven: On the field, I would say it’s his intangibles and physicality. He’s not afraid to lower his shoulder to pick up the first down or score a touchdown.
Duggan has the speed to break off big runs and keep the chains moving. Aside from the Michigan game, his deep ball accuracy has been among the best in the country. Duggan improved a lot as a passer with his touch and confidence in Coach Sonny Dykes’ offensive scheme.
Off the field, Duggan just loves TCU. He could have easily transferred to another Power-5 school, but Duggan wanted to stay with his teammates for another year and said he wanted to leave TCU in a better place than when he got here.
Duggan has already done that this season.
He’s a selfless player who doesn’t really enjoy the spotlight, and he’s just a humble kid who handled losing his job in the best way imaginable by sticking around and winning it back.
2. When did you know this TCU team might be special, and what were the signs?
Steven: My first impression was the first day of fall camp, when we got to watch a lot of practice and I couldn’t help but notice the talent.
I was surprised that the team I was watching had only won five or six games each of the past few years. But everybody looks good in practice right?
So when they blew out a healthy Oklahoma team in the fourth game of the season (55-24), that was the real moment that I, and the rest of the program, really felt like this could be a special year.
OU wasn’t great, but TCU looked like it was in a completely different class, and that just doesn’t happen historically when they face the Sooners.
3. Other than Duggan, who has been the offensive player that has been the biggest difference maker?
Steven: Receiver Quentin Johnston is going to be the first receiver taken in the NFL Draft. He’s 6-foot-4 with legit sub 4.4 speed. He was the offensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl and is a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time in his career.
If he’s healthy I would also add Kendre Miller, before his injury against Michigan the RB had scored a touchdown in every game this season and has rushed for over 1,300 yards. Both are future NFL guys.
4. What is it about the 3-3-5 that causes problems for opponents, and who is the Alpha Dog on the defense?
Steven: The speed of the linebackers and the tight windows in pass coverage are the two biggest factors. The defense puts a lot of responsibilities on the likes of Dee Winters, Johnny Hodges and Jamoi Hodge, and they have usually answered the call. If done correctly, quarterbacks are forced to try to find openings with seven or eight defenders dropped back in coverage. It leads to interceptions or gives the DL enough time to get to the quarterback.
If I had to pick one it would probably be Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, the nephew of LaDainian Tomlinson. He won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top DB and did not allow a catch against Michigan.
He’s a smaller corner, but physical at the point of attack. He may have allowed one touchdown every year and is actually really good in run support despite his size.
5. What are your initial impressions of Georgia, based on what TCU has said and your 10,000-foot view from the outside?
I’m from SEC country (Memphis) so I watch quite a bit of UGA and SEC games. To me it seems like they have more juice offensively this year and Stetson looks like he’s taken a step or two in his development.
Overall, I think last year’s team was better, but the Bulldogs have been the best team in the sport all year. There have been just enough cracks shown (Mizzou, UK, OSU) that makes me think TCU has a puncher’s chance to win this game.
As for TCU’s perspective, they know Georgia is great across the board. Dykes compared Brock Bowers to Gronk (Rob Gronkowski), LB Johnny Hodges more or less said he admires Stetson Bennett, and Duggan said UGA has some of the best players in the country.
Another thing important to me is the fact that UGA has the experience and pedigree that Michigan thought it had. If the game is close, I think Georgia will be more comfortable than the Wolverines, which could be the difference.