By Sarah Lounsbury | @saraahlounsbury
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — An ecstatic Georgia crowd bowed down to quarterback Stetson Bennett when he exited the field with 13 minutes, 25 seconds to play in what had become a coronation. Bennett waved back in response, his college career ending with an unprecedented second consecutive victory in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Georgia’s 65-7 triumph over TCU at SoFi Stadium, the largest margin of victory in the history of college bowl games, meant that the quarterback whose career began as a walk-on had become a Georgia legend forever.
A rare, beaming smile on his face, Bennett looked proud. The Bulldogs became the 14th team in the history of college football, and the first team since Alabama in the 2012 season, to win back-to-back national titles.
“It’s special,” said Bennett. “It seems like for the past three or four months we’ve been looking to see if somebody could beat us, and we just ran out of games. Nobody could.”
Georgia became the third team in the modern era with a 15-0 record, joining Clemson in the 2018 season and LSU in 2019. The Bulldogs led for 56:01, a record for a championship game.
Bennett became the first two-time Offensive Player of the Game in the nine playoff seasons. He was responsible for six touchdowns – four passing and two rushing – to equal the title game record set by Joe Burrow of LSU in 2020.
He completed 18 of 25 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed for 39 yards and two touchdowns. With his stellar performance, Bennett surpassed Matt Jones’ 203.3 pass efficiency rating record from the 2021 national title game between Alabama and Ohio State with a rating of 226.9.
In the last two championship games, Bennett completed 35 of 51 passes (68.6%) for 528 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
TCU (13-2) was attempting to win the school’s first national championship since 1938. But from the first possession, the Bulldogs showed why the national championship clearly belonged to them by wasting no time in putting points up on the board. Within their first possession, Bennett’s 21-yard touchdown run gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead. The Horned Frogs responded to Bennett’s touchdown and a Bulldog field goal when TCU quarterback Max Duggan’s two-yard touchdown brought TCU within 10-7.
To the Horned Frogs’ dismay, this would be their only score of the game. Georgia would go on to score 38 points in just the first half, which ties the record for the most points scored in the first half of a national championship game in the nine years of the College Football Playoff era.
TCU receiver Quentin Johnston, who had 302 yards on 10 catches in the previous two games, was limited to one reception for three yards.
“I did have a feeling that our offense had a really good plan,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart. “As I watched the offense each day I said, we’ve got a good plan. If we execute this plan, we’re going to attack these guys and we’re going to be really aggressive.”
“(Bennett) loves this program,” said defensive back Kelee Ringo. “Just the way he carries himself, his mindset, his swagger, you can never count him out.”
Defensively, Georgia left little opportunity for Duggan to spot receivers and move the ball down the field thanks to the five total sacks the Bulldog defense maneuvered. A combination of pressure from Georgia’s defensive line and defensive back Javon Bullard’s ability to read Duggan’s pass allowed for Bullard to intercept two passes in the second quarter, the second coming with 36 seconds to go in the half. With the look of defeat on his face, Duggan’s head hung low and he shuffled off the field.
“I think tonight was one of those nights where at least offensively we couldn’t get anything rolling,” said Duggan. “They were playing well on defense. We were shooting ourselves in the foot. I was making bad decisions.”
As a difference-maker on defense, Bullard accounted for all three turnovers including two interceptions and a fumble recovery that led to 17 points, earning himself Defensive Player of the Game.
“As a kid you always dream of moments like this,” said Bullard. “And just to see those moments and accomplishments and things like that come true, it’s just a surreal feeling. I’m extremely blessed to be in the position I am. I just thank God for it every day.”
Despite breaking records and earning the highest accomplishment in collegiate football, Smart is still hungry for more.
“We have a saying around our place: We eat off the floor and if you’re willing to eat off the floor, you can be special,” said Smart.