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Georgia credits national championship run to love and toughness

INGLEWOOD — Georgia defensive back Javon Bullard led a bounce-back effort for a Bulldogs secondary that was key in their team’s 65-7 blowout win over Texas Christian in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

The sophomore was named defensive player of the game after recording two interceptions and a fumble recovery in the first half.

“As a kid, you always dream of moments like this,” Bullard said. “Just to see those moments come true is a surreal feeling.”

The Bulldogs’ secondary was coming off a lackluster effort in its last outing – a 42-41 comeback victory in the CFP semifinal against Ohio State in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31.

But Bullard helped change that.

The sophomore, who started eight of 12 games for the Bulldogs this season and didn’t record a turnover all season, savored his breakout performance in the national championship game.

TCU’s top receiving target, junior wide receiver Quentin Johnston, came in regarded as a sure-fire first-round pick in April’s NFL draft.

He was shut down by Georgia’s secondary. Johnston finished with one catch for three yards.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart spoke highly of Bullard’s toughness.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart on defensive back Javon Bullard’s toughness: pic.twitter.com/iScbHB8YnB

— James H. Williams covers UCLA football (@JHWreporter) January 10, 2023

“You guys don’t see what they sacrifice,” Smart said. “You don’t see Bullard when his shoulder comes out … and he is still out there hitting people. He just stays in the game. He embodies what our culture is.”

Georgia finished the season with 15-0, winning back-to-back national championships for the first time since Alabama’s 2011 and 2012 teams. The Bulldogs are currently on a 17-game winning streak and have won 29 of their last 30 games, largely thanks to their senior quarterback.

Stetson Bennett, the offensive player of the game, led the Bulldogs to scores on six consecutive possessions in the first half, converting Bullard’s three takeaways into 17 points.

“This team loves each other. Coach Smart said he’s never had a group like this … he’s right,” Bennett said. “We love each other, every single person on this team would do anything for each other. It’s a special group.”

Bennett completed 13 of 17 attempts for 213 passing yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He also had 39 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns on three carries by the second quarter.

Bennett finished the game 18 of 25 for 304 yards and six total touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) and received a standing ovation when he was taken out of the game by Smart early in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs were up 52-7 at the time.

“(Stetson Bennett) probably had his best game of his career in my opinion,” Smart said. “I know he’s got GOAT status in Athens, Georgia, forever.”

FAST START

Georgia scored on its first six offensive possessions and led TCU 38-7 at halftime.

The Bulldogs’ 38 points in the first half were a CFP title game record. Georgia also set a record for most points in the first quarter of a championship game with 17 points.

In fact, Georgia sophomore kicker Jack Podlesny made a 24-yard field goal in the first quarter and five extra points in the first half, outscoring TCU 8-7 by himself by halftime. Podlesny ended up outsourcing TCU 11-7.

Georgia’s receiving corps was led by sophomore tight end Brock Bowers. The former four-star recruit from Napa High School in California finished with a team-high seven receptions for 152 receiving yards, highlighted by a 22-yard touchdown catch thrown by Bennett early in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, TCU senior running back Emari Demercado ran for 33 yards on six carries in the first half. Demercado, an Inglewood native and 2017 graduate of Downey High, was the Horned Frogs’ leading rusher with 59 yards on 14 carries. Demercado got the start after junior running back Kendre Miller did not play due to a knee injury he suffered on Dec. 31 at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.

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HONORARY CAPTAINS

TCU and Georgia didn’t have to look far to bring notable alumni from their respective universities to serve as honorary team captains for the national championship game.

Chargers legend LaDainian Tomlinson accompanied TCU’s captains for the coin toss. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford accompanied Georgia’s captains.

Tomlinson rushed for 5,263 yards and 54 touchdowns during his TCU career from 1997-2000. He finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2000.

Stafford completed 564 of 987 passes for 7,731 yards and 51 touchdowns as a Bulldog from 2006-08. He was the No. 1 overall pick by the Detroit Lions in the 2009 NFL draft.

 

I’m breaking down Georgia’s 65-7 win against TCU in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. #GoDawgs played a complete game on offense, defense & special teams led by senior quarterback Stetson Bennett’s 6 touchdowns. pic.twitter.com/VSzcgOC9Iy

— John W. Davis (@johnwdavis) January 10, 2023

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