By Justin Haberstroh | @JustinHaberstr1
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Throughout his sophomore season with the University of Georgia Bulldogs, right to the end, Javon Bullard helped establish a standard.
“His shoulder comes out tonight, his collarbone, and he just stays in the game,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He embodies what our culture is, which is toughness. And I have a very serious appreciation for that because they do it for a university I love.”
On a record-setting night in SoFi Stadium, Bullard’s fumble recovery and two interceptions led to 17 points in Georgia’s 65-7 victory over TCU for a second consecutive national championship and fourth overall.
Bullard’s recovery of Derius Davis’ fumble on the second TCU drive of the day was followed by interceptions of Max Duggan passes on the fifth and sixth drives. Bullard’s two interceptions were an individual record for a College Football Playoff National Championship.
Bullard, a 5-foot-11 sophomore defensive back did not have any of Georgia’s 10 interceptions in the previous 14 games of a championship season. Bullard’s stats before Monday night had been sound but nothing spectacular, with 32 solo tackles and 13 assisted tackles to go along with three and a half sacks.
But in the biggest game of the year, Bullard put it all together to lead the Georgia defense in the first half and set the tone for the rest of the game. Eleven of TCU’s 12 drives ended without a score. Bullard’s teammate and fellow defensive end Kelee Ringo saw what Bullard did and credits him for helping the team in their blowout win.
“Jayvon is a great player man, he has a high motor, and he is really successful… you can’t do anything but respect a guy like that and how consistent he is,” Ringo said. “When somebody is making plays like that, I feel like the other team has to look out for him and the team has to try to do something else… We definitely elevated our standard after that.”
Wide receiver Ladd McConkey, who had five receptions for 88 yards, including touchdown catches of 37 and 14 yards, said Bullard is just that type of guy to make big plays when the Bulldogs need one.
“He comes in and makes big plays in big moments and that’s just the type of player he is,” McConkey said. “He goes out every day and grinds, and it’s paid off for him.”
With Bullard off the field in the second half with a shoulder injury, the Bulldog defense continued to play with the aggression that Bullard showed in the first half. Bullard found ways to leave his imprint on his teammates by motivating them from the sideline.
“He has a great mentality wherever he is on the field,” Ringo said. “You can feed off his energy when you’re on the field and off it.”
The Bulldogs did feed off of Bullard’s energy. In the second half, the Bulldogs allowed zero points, 12 rushing yards, 67 total yards, and held TCU to 2.7 yards per play on their way to the 58-point triumph, the largest margin of victory in the history of college bowl games.
The rest of the Georgia defense also excelled. Robert Beal Jr., Jaylon Walker, and Tykee Smith all had sacks and all but three defensive players had at least one tackle. In total, the Bulldogs limited the Horned Frogs to 188 total yards and forced three turnovers.
Smart said that Bullard was battling injuries throughout the entire season. The TCU offense had averaged 474.1 yards this season, and its average of 41.1 points ranked fifth among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Bullard knew he had done something special.
“As a kid, you know, you always dream of moments like this,” Bullard said. “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 in. I just thank God for it every day.”
Smart gave a special thanks to his scout team for playing TCU’s defense.
“When we got TCU, I called them all in,” said Smart. “I had the coaches meet with them. We made them meet and become this defense. And we said, ‘We’re going to do it better than they do it. You’re going to watch tape, sit in here, learn how to do it.’ We had a guy C.J. Allen, number 6, he did it as good as they did it. We had Collins, 57, he did it as good as they did it. We had guys be their guys and do their defense exactly right. Until the last day we were walking in there, they were giving an unbelievable look. That set our offense up for success. Scout team makes a difference, and we had a hell of a scout team to give these guys a look.”