Georgia’s Defense Must Improve To Beat TCU For National Championship

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Georgia’s defense was known as the “Junkyard Dawgs” when it won the national championship, 17-10, over No. 7 Notre Dame on Jan. 1, 1981 in the Sugar Bowl. Buck Belue completed 1 of 13 passes for seven yards and was the winning quarterback, because of that defense.

Lately, though, Georgia’s defense has been more junky than dawg as the No. 1 Bulldogs (14-0) try to win their second straight College Football Playoff national championship. Georgia plays No. 3 TCU (13-1) on Monday (7:30 p.m., ESPN) in Inglewood, California.

Ohio State put up 467 yards in a 42-41 loss to Georgia in the CFP semifinal last week. The 41 points were the most allowed by Georgia since losing to Alabama, 41-24, in the 2020 season. The Buckeyes scored 28 in the first half – the most against Georgia all season. And the Bulldogs came in at No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense with just 12.8 points allowed a game.

Georgia’s Defense Has Been Allowing Gobs Of Yards

The Buckeyes, who are viewed as more of a finesse team than a physical one, also used their offensive line to push around Georgia’s for 119 rushing yards. The Bulldogs came into the game No. 2 in the nation in rushing defense with just 77 allowed a game. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud threw for 348 yards – 133 above the average Georgia was allowing.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s defense has been allowing uncharacteristic amounts of yardage in recent games. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

“We tried man. We tried zone,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart. He then added: “We mixed it up. They earned it most of the time. If we want any chance at winning a national championship, we have to play a lot better football.”

That may have been particularly hard for Smart to say. The former Georgia safety has always coached on that side of the ball. He helped author several great defenses as Alabama’s coordinator from 2008-15 with four national titles. He only reluctantly moved to a more modern offense in 2020 under coordinator Todd Monken.

Georgia Gave Up 549 Yards to LSU

“Coach Smart always had that sort of swagger about him that just screamed out ‘defense,'” Georgia defensive back Javon Bullard said Tuesday on a national championship game teleconference.

Lately, though, he’s just been screaming.

Georgia was never in danger of losing the SEC championship game, but it still allowed a season-high 549 yards to LSU in a 50-30 win. Ohio State put up 24 first downs against the Bulldogs and held the ball for 32 minutes, averaging 7.1 yards a play – all rarely large numbers against Georgia.

Georgia defensive back Javon Bullard’s hit on Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. in the third quarter Saturday in a CFP national semifinal in Atlanta put him out of the game. (Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“I think the whole team can attest that we didn’t play our best game,” Bullard said. “There’s a whole lot we can fix. Communicaton and things like that – just the basic things, knowing your leverage, talking. I know we’ve got to talk better throughout the secondary.”

TCU Offense Is As Dangerous As Ohio State’s

Enter TCU’s offense, which is as proficient as Ohio State’s. The Horned Frogs’ prolific attack is No. 5 in the nation with 41 points a game behind versatile quarterback Max Duggan, who is No. 10 in passing efficiency at 162.3. He has completed 253 of 397 passes for 3,546 yards and 32 touchdowns against six interceptions. The Heisman Trophy finalist has also rushed 127 times for 222 yards and eight touchdowns.

TCU is No .13 nationally in total offense with 474 yards a game.

“He’s very smart,” Smart said of Duggan “There’s no defense he’s going to see that he hasn’t seen before. You’re not tricking an experienced quarterback.”

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TCU Has Tall Targets

Duggan’s targets have an advantage. Wide receiver Quentin Johnson, who leads the Horned Frogs with 59 catches for 1,066 yards, is 6-foot-4. Wide receiver Savion Williams is 6-5 and has caught 29 passes for 392 yards. Jared Wiley is a 6-7 tight end with 22 catches for 231 yards. Johnson caught a 76-yard touchdown from Duggan for a 48-38 lead in the fourth quarter Saturday against Michigan, which fell 51-45.

“Their size on the outside stands out a lot,” Bullard said. “We know they’ve got some very large receivers, big catch radiuses, and they can run.”

It is likely Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett will have to complete more than one pass.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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