A feel-good story doesn’t always conclude on a high note. In the shadow of Los Angeles, a city internationally renowned for its fervent love of storytelling, the nobody-saw-it-coming, 200-1 tale of the TCU Horned Frogs stumbled around Sofi Stadium like Buster Keaton on a broken projector screen — with the help of a Georgia Bulldogs team that can fairly be described as a college football dynasty.
The culmination of the 2022 season and the ninth iteration of the College Football Playoff — on the heels of the most exciting pair of national semifinals the format had produced — was a national final almost totally devoid of drama from the very beginning.
Behind a crisp, unadulterated 65-7 bashing on Monday night, the top-ranked Bulldogs collected a second consecutive national championship and a 33rd win in their past 34 games. With it, Kirby Smart became the first coach in the playoff era to go back-to-back, something his mentor Nick Saban never accomplished.
“He learned from probably the greatest of all time,” Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV said of Smart before the game. “He learned and he took notes.”
Georgia’s 58-point margin was the most lopsided in any national title game since 2004 (the earliest year in ESPN Stats & Information Group’s data), obliterating USC’s 36-point demolition of Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl by a margin of more than 20 points:
|Date||Team||Pts Scored||Opponent||Pts Allowed||Margin|
The carnage began almost immediately: Within 10 minutes, Georgia had amassed a double-digit lead and by halftime the Bulldogs had fashioned the second-largest midpoint lead (38-7) in the history of the national championship game. Only once in the past 19 seasons has a team overcome a 31-point halftime lead.1 More than 640 others failed — including TCU, which finally ceded a first-half deficit it couldn’t outrun.
“We’ve exceeded expectations, at least externally,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes acknowledged in the lead-up to the national final. “And so anytime you do that there’s always a little bit of extra motivation.”
Unfortunately for Dykes, that motivation mostly manifested on the Georgia sideline.
It was a collective performance by the Bulldogs that quieted just about every doubt levied against the defending national champs throughout the season.2 The wisecracks about the 25-year-old quarterback who had to wear a mailman’s cap to stand out as a recruit? He threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns and played only one fourth-quarter snap as he became the eighth QB in the AP Poll era to lead back-to-back national title-winning teams. Those concerns about arguably the fourth-best defense Smart has overseen in his seven seasons as head coach? The Bulldogs forced three first-half turnovers and limited one of the nation’s most dangerous units to a paltry 188 total yards. The boredom that topples so many dynasties? Georgia entered the national championship game as 13.5-point favorites and left zero doubt who the A-side attraction was as it outscored TCU by at least 10 points in every quarter.
“We hunt,” Smart said. “We want to be staying on the aggressive side of things.”
There could have been a thousand hypnotoads in Sofi Stadium and it’s unlikely it would have flipped the outcome. Georgia converted 9 of 13 third-down attempts (69.2 percent), the second-highest single-game conversion rate of any playoff game. They ran a playoff co-record 47 offensive snaps with a win probability of at least 95 percent. TCU QB Max Duggan, the Heisman runner-up who rushed for nearly 500 yards and nine touchdowns this season, finished with negative-38 yards on the ground (which included sacks), and completed just 14 of 22 passes for 152 yards and two interceptions.
Monday’s performance was a dominant effort that turned the final quarter into a sequence of curtain calls for the next crop of soon-to-be professional Bulldogs at the expense of plucky novices. It was a reminder of the gap between the blue-chippers and the happy-to-be-heres.
As TCU senior guard Wes Harris said before the game, “This whole thing’s nuts, dude. I’m just like, ‘When’s it gonna hit us?’”
Unfortunately for the Horned Frogs, the answer was Monday night, when their magical run ended with the most decisive championship-game performance we’ve seen from a college football team in a long time.
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