Georgia was supposed to be here the whole time. TCU was expected to finish seventh in the Big 12 Conference.
After narrowly escaping the College Football Playoff semifinals, the Bulldogs will be heavy favourites to win their second national championship in a row against the Horned Frogs.
TCU was motivated by Michigan’s obvious confidence heading into the Fiesta Bowl, which was nothing new to them. The Wolverines were outgained on the ground and rocked by the Horned Frogs’ aggressiveness, resulting in an unexpected defensive collapse.
The game will be decided by whether TCU can do the same to Georgia. While the task is daunting, the fact that Ohio State forced the Bulldogs into an up-and-down shootout in the Peach Bowl suggests that the defending national champions may struggle to contain one of the Bowl Subdivision’s top offences.
The Horned Frogs are ranked third 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).
“Now we have to take care of business,” Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett said. “We need to get ready. We have nine days or so to play a really good TCU team. So we’ll have to get our butts ready.”
Georgia will be TCU’s fourth opponent this season to have a yards allowed per play ranking in the top 20 nationally, joining Texas, Iowa State, and Michigan. The offence struggled against the Longhorns, averaging just 3.9 yards per play in a 17-10 win, and then used three interceptions to spark a 62-14 rout of the Cyclones — the only TCU game decided by more than 10 points since beating Oklahoma on Oct. 1.
The balanced offensive attack of the frogs
The Horned Frogs stunned Michigan with one of the season’s most impressive offensive performances: 263 yards rushing, the most the Wolverines have allowed since being thrashed by Wisconsin during the COVID season, and another 225 yards through the air on an overall average of 6.9 yards per play.
Tempo negated Michigan’s defensive approach and perceived strength along the line of scrimmage. The Horned Frogs will try to establish a similarly balanced offensive attack against Georgia, which will be led by quarterback Max Duggan, who had four combined touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl despite struggling with his downfield accuracy.
Without establishing a consistent running game, Ohio State was able to force Georgia into uneasy territory. The Buckeyes rushed for 119 yards on 32 attempts, with four gains of 12 yards or more, led by quarterback C.J. Stroud’s 27-yard scramble with less than one minute remaining in the fourth quarter. However, Stroud threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 10.2 yards per attempt, marking Georgia’s second sour game in a row after suffocating teams for the majority of the regular season.
Bulldogs’ defensive issues
The Bulldogs had allowed 11 passing touchdowns and eight interceptions prior to the SEC championship game against LSU. After allowing 502 yards to the Tigers and failing to contain Stroud, Georgia has allowed seven touchdown passes on 9.9 yards per throw in the last two games — a significant defensive swoon at the worst possible time.
TCU, on the other hand, will need to get more from Duggan. In games against Kansas State and Michigan, the Heisman Trophy runner-up completed 32 of 65 passes for a combined 32 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions. While his impact is undeniable, the Frogs will struggle against Georgia if he struggles to connect with Quentin Johnson and the rest of his receiver corps.
Plan for an uprising
When it comes down to it, Duggan’s accuracy and ability to loosen up one of college football’s most intimidating defensive fronts will determine the championship game. TCU’s best chance of winning is to rely on pace and unpredictability to force Georgia to go punch-for-punch on offence.
Even so, the Peach Bowl demonstrated that Georgia can win in a variety of ways against the best teams in the FBS. While the Horned Frogs’ speed of play is outside the program’s preferred comfort zone under coach Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs will not be intimidated after battling back from multiple double-digit deficits against Stroud and the Buckeyes.
Georgia trailed by 14 points in the first quarter and by 14 points again going into the fourth quarter. However, the Bulldogs chipped in a field goal to cut 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 in five plays to take a 42-41 lead with less than a minute remaining. Bennett led the comeback, overcoming an erratic start to complete 11 of his final 13 throws for 398 yards and three touchdowns.
Bennett and the Bulldogs will face an opportunistic pass defence in TCU, which made significant strides in the second half of the regular season. Overall, the Frogs allow opponents to complete only 54.3% of their attempts, ranking fourth in the Power Five, and have 16 interceptions, ranking sixth in the Power Five.
Georgia will counter TCU’s speed and aggressiveness by relying on the running game. While the Bulldogs are less reliant on the ground this season than they were in 2021, when they ran the ball on 57.2% of their plays, the offence can be brutally effective in establishing physical play up front and dominating in the red zone.
TCU is capable of slowing down Kenny McIntosh and the Bulldogs’ backfield, as demonstrated in the Fiesta Bowl. Michigan gained 180 yards on the ground, 54 of which came on the first play of the game. From there, the Wolverines averaged only 3.2 yards per carry and were unable to move bodies at the line of scrimmage.
In the end, TCU may be able to force Georgia to abandon the run and rely on Bennett to carry the offence. That worked against Ohio State, but only just.
The blueprint for an upset is there: TCU must be the aggressor and force Georgia into a reactive role, offsetting the significant talent and depth gap. Failure to do so could result in a double-digit loss and the Bulldogs’ second consecutive championship.