Stetson Bennett, Georgia dismantle TCU to repeat as national champs

INGLEWOOD — When TCU quarterback Max Duggan strode into the end zone, there was a glimmer of hope for the thousands of purple-clad fans at SoFi Stadium. The Horned Frogs had cut Georgia’s first-quarter lead to three points and seemed to have a chance against the defending champs in the College Football Playoff title game.

But like a dog – or, a Bulldog – who had grown tired of playing with its food, Georgia’s next drive put to rest that silly optimism. In four plays, UGA threw for a first down, ran for a first down, threw for a first down and, then, quarterback Stetson Bennett IV found tight end Ladd McConkey with no one around him for a 37-yard touchdown pass.

Georgia would not allow any challenge to its crown. And if last year was the coronation, consider Monday’s 65-7 victory over TCU to be the confirmation for college football’s first back-to-back champions since Alabama in 2011-12.

“There’s no blemish,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “This year’s team was different. Like, they just had this eye of the tiger; they weren’t going to lose.”

The entire game was evidence of the behemoth that Georgia (15-0) has built. The Bulldogs set a CFP title game record with 17 points in the first quarter, then did it again with a 38-point first half.

Georgia scored on its first six drives. It outgained TCU 589-188. After a leaping 22-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, tight end Brock Bowers had more receiving yards (152) than TCU had total offense (126). Georgia had five sacks to TCU’s none.

Georgia’s 65 points broke the record set by USC in 2004 for the most points scored in a national championship game, and the Bulldogs’ 58-point margin of victory made it the most lopsided national title game in college football history.

And it all started with Bennett.

Though the former walk-on might have finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last month, he cemented his place in college football history on Monday. In the first half alone, his 262 total yards and four total touchdowns eclipsed his totals from all four quarters of last year’s national championship victory over Alabama.

And Bennett enjoyed every second of it. There he was, waving his arms in circles as he ran up the field following the bomb touchdown pass to McConkey. And stretching his arms as wide as his grin as he shrugged following his second touchdown run, the first quarterback with multiple rushing scores in a national title game since Vince Young in 2006.

With 13:25 left in the game, Georgia pulled Bennett, the thousands of Bulldog fans roaring in recognition of one of their all-time greats finishing out his career with four passing TDs and two rushing scores, the six total scores matching a CFP record.

“I didn’t dream this, man, I was just trying to do my job,” Bennett said during the trophy presentation. “And we ended here, man. I don’t know what to tell you.”

Duggan, the Heisman runner-up behind USC’s Caleb Williams, could not match Bennett’s poise. He threw two first-half interceptions, one essentially an arm punt on third down but the second an ill-advised attempt into double coverage at the TCU 22-yard line.

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Both interceptions were collected by Javon Bullard, the sophomore safety who had none in his entire career entering SoFi Stadium in front of 72,628 fans. And he recovered a fumble on TCU’s second drive of the game, too.

But that’s the point of what Smart has built at Georgia. The Bulldogs out-recruit everybody, and even when there’s the rare three-star prospect on the roster, like Bullard or Bennett out of junior college, the Bulldogs develop them to be able to step right in and be cogs in the machine.

“I don’t know that we have two players that embody toughness more than these two guys,” Smart said of Bennett and Bullard, the offensive and defensive MVPs of the game.

Once again, it was red and black confetti shooting from the cannons on a championship field. The smell of cigar smoke wafted around SoFi as Bennett walked toward the stage, wrestling title belt draped across his shoulder.

“I love this team, I love our fans, I love our band, I love everybody,” Bennett said during the trophy presentation. “Back-to-back, baby.”

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