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12 Takeaways Georgia vs TCU - “The Prestige”

Graham Coffey

Seventeen days ago the Georgia Bulldogs became the first back-to-back national champions of the College Football Playoff era. UGA’s play in its emphatic blowout win over Oregon made it clear that this was possible on the first full weekend of college football’s regular season. What we didn’t know then was how the UGA staff would use every game of the regular season as an opportunity to improve the Bulldogs. For over 4 months, the duo of Todd Monken and Kirby Smart sat in the rafters above the stage deftly manipulating the invisible strings controlling the UGA roster like two veteran puppet masters. After every game this season I published my in-depth 12 Takeaways on what we learned about the Bulldogs that week. Against TCU, the UGA staff and team gave its most inspired display of all. With no games left on the schedule the playbook started open and stayed that way. 

This article first appeared to our DawgsCentral subscribers on the morning of January 13th. It is reprinted here free of charge. If you enjoy this type of deep dive analysis and would like to see more of it please consider subscribing to DawgsCentral. Our site publishes fresh intel daily and it exists to provide a community for UGA fans who want to talk about football and other sports in a passionate but civil manner. We’re extremely proud to say that there has never been a single political discussion on this website. We hope this edition of 12 Takeaways gives you a glimpse into what we do here.

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12 Takeaways Georgia vs TCU - The Prestige

1) All year long I have told you about my theory on how the Georgia Football program operates. I maintained that Kirby Smart, and in particular Todd Monken, are men who enjoy playing the long game. Every play is a card in Monken’s hand, and he will never play a face card when he doesn’t have to. Many programs chase stats, force feed certain players, and insist on burning things onto tape so their quarterback can be a step closer to a Heisman ceremony or so they can point to big numbers when talking to recruits. Those programs don’t win back-to-back national titles. 2022 was a fifteen game symphony that Kirby Smart wrote out way back in the summer. He and his staff brilliantly conducted each section of the orchestra to ensure their talent was maximized when the ending cane. On Monday night the ending arrived, and when it was time for the crescendo they were a perfectly tuned machine. Remember that game at Kentucky that made you want to pull your hair out? It was that way because UGA perfecting its running game was more important to its title hopes than ensuring the talking heads would speak highly of the Bulldogs on that week’s recap show. Knowing what we now know, I wouldn’t be surprised if Smart wanted nothing more than to reap the double benefit of having his team play a physical game against the Wildcats while being criticized in the media. When you look back at how vanilla the play calling was against certain out classed opponents, it becomes clear that Smart was trying to make his players better, keep things off tape, and remind this UGA team they weren’t as good as they thought. 


2) It worked all year long, and Georgia entered the week of prep for TCU with a perfect balance of humility and self-belief. We’re gonna get into the actual football stuff, but it is rather important to remember just how key it was for Georgia to show up to this game in the right state of mind. Smart talked after the Ohio State game about his team being driven by slights and disrespect. When I walked around media day the UGA staff and players gave detailed answers about the challenges that TCU’s offensive personnel would pose. They talked extensively about the difficulty of facing the 3-3-5. This stood in stark contrast to the comments Michigan made. The Wolverines talked about “smashing the 3-3-5” and “bringing the Big 10 to the Big 12” in the lead up to facing the Horned Frogs. Kirby Smart has many gifts as a football coach, but the greatest might be his ability to read his team’s mindset and know exactly what they need. In his pregame interview he said, “We’re going to hunt tonight. We’re going to do the best we can to hunt tonight.” There has been many teams in the position to repeat that failed to do so because of hubris. Smart somehow convinced a Georgia team that was a 14-point favorite by kickoff that they were the more capable and prepared team but also the one with something to prove. Striking that balance requires a high level of precision and insight. It requires recruiting the right personalities onto the roster years ahead of time, and hiring coaches who will pull the most out of those personalities. Kirby Smart played this team perfectly. Then the game came and he gave everyone the ability to play with a full deck. 


3) On Monday night we saw the greatest offensive performance by a team playing in a national title game in college football’s modern era. I believed all season that the Georgia offense was a juggernaut waiting to be let off of Monken’s leash, but I never imagined this level of excellence was attainable. DawgsCentral subscriber West Coast Mark and I were messaging this week and he shared a line that a magician once told him about his tricks. “The first time is entertainment. The second time is education.” The implication is that you only get to see it once. To borrow a phrase from Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film by the same name, Monday night was The Prestige on Todd Monken’s four-month long magic trick. The Prestige is the payoff to any trick. It is the moment where the crowd goes crazy and the brilliance of the performer is on display. Georgia’s offensive coordinator provided one hell of a payoff for those of us who have spent the season believing in the Todd Monken Long Con Theory. There have been moments of brilliance all year long, but this gameplan was all crowd pleasers and no filler. He only used what he needed to use all year long, and that meant he made it to January with a ton of unused ammo in the playbook. Most teams come into a championship game with a new trick play or two that they installed that week. Monken showed up with a fat section of his playbook that nobody knew about and threw in a bunch of tempo and sugar huddles. Remember, twice is an education. That means you only get to see the magic once. How the hell do you prepare for something you have never seen if you’re TCU? 


4) Going back through the gametape of UGA 65 - TCU 7 is flat out WILD. The first drive features some things I had heard about Georgia practicing back in fall camp. After all this time I had forgotten about the two-back sets that were being run in the heat of the Georgia summer. The Bulldogs had only used 21 Personnel (2 RB/1 TE) on four plays all season prior to facing TCU. All of those plays had been passes. On the first drive of the game they lined up McIntosh to the left of Bennett and Milton to the QB’s right and used McIntosh as a lead blocker on a Outside Zone Read concept that netted Georgia a first down. They ran out of it again later in the night, but the 21 set was also used to hit the 37-yard TD pass to McConkey when the game was 10-7. That play was one of those Monken moments where he has the perfect card to play at the perfect moment. TCU had just scored and it felt like the game was about to get competitive in SoFi Stadium. UGA used Tight Bunch formations all year. On that play they put Daijun Edwards as one of the WR’s in the Bunch. I don’t recall seeing that all season. He came in a Jet Motion and Bennett simultaneously faked a run to McIntosh on what was really a Wheel Route for the RB. All of that froze TCU. CB #1 Hodges-Tomlinson had to cover two men. He would have been wrong no matter what he chose. The call was so good that Georgia was scoring a TD on that play no matter what the defender did. That is just one example, but there were wrinkles like it littered throughout the night. The Dawgs hit Bowers for 12 yards on a Slip Screen on 1st & 15 on their 3rd play. On the second play of the next drive they ran what looked like a Counter with Bowers pulling from the right to the left to block. In reality it was a Play-Action Bootleg where Bowers faked a pull and reversed course back into the right flat. It pulled a defender out of his zone towards the line of scrimmage and gave Bennett a window to hit Ladd McConkey for a 15-yard gain. These little details don’t pop off the screen to most of us, but they are hell on the linebackers and safeties who just had to tackle Bowers on a screen and suddenly think another pass is coming to #19 in the flat. I noticed in my preview that the TCU linebackers and safeties were suspect in coverage. The early screens to Bowers and McConkey, the Shotgun Sweeps and Outside Zone concepts with UGA’s offensive linemen getting out on the edge, the targeting of Bowers over the middle… Monken set those TCU LB’s and Safeties up from the start and toyed with them all night long. They never had a chance. 


5) Speaking of Brock Bowers… How much fun was it to see him as the hinge point for how Monken set up everything else UGA wanted to do on the night? Bowers caught 2 passes for 37 yards on consecutive plays on the first drive. The attention that created let UGA go to McConkey for 3 completions on the game’s third drive. Then they came back to Bowers for some more on drive number four. At the start of that drive it was 17-7 and UGA was starting on their own 8. It felt like Georgia could possibly put the game out of reach if they executed properly. The second play of the drive was a Play-Action Boot to Bowers for 10 yards. The next play was a Wheel Route to Bowers for 35 yards. What I’ll remember for way longer was the last two plays of the drive. On 1st & 10 from the 18 he lined up to Bennett’s left in the Shotgun with McIntosh to Bennett’s right. He screamed down the line at the snap and blocked a TCU defender on the edge so Kenny could get the corner and run for 12 yards. On the next play he motioned across the formation at the snap and again helped seal the edge so Bennett could run in for a wide open TD on a QB Power. Later in the night Bowers would again show off his ridiculous combination of size/speed/hands and catch a TD on a Slot Fade. His high level blocking ability was fully on display in a game where he went for 7 REC’s on 7 TGT’s with 152 YDS and a TD. He’s the best receiving tight end in college football, but his blocking ability was also a huge key to Georgia’s offensive success against TCU and throughout the season. He is as special of a player that you could ever hope to find, and he is willing to do the dirty work despite being so skilled. Georgia gets him for another full season. Take the time to enjoy every second of him being in Athens. 


6) So now onto the guy that was delivering the ball to Bowers. Stetson Bennett went out a back-to-back national champion, but this time he did it in style. His play was as good as we’ve ever seen out of him, and the 304 yards passing didn’t come cheap. Bennett’s Average Depth of Target on his 25 throws against TCU was 13.4 YDS. That was the second highest number of his career (Stetson had an ADOT of 13.6 YDS in the 2021 UAB & Florida games). He was 5 of 6 passing for 84 YDS and 1 TD on throws of 10-19 YDS. He was 5 of 8 passing for 144 YDS and 3 TD’s on throws of 20+ YDS. His ADOT was 29.0 YDS on those 8 attempts of 20+ YDS. Monken let him air it out on his way out the door. PFF graded Bennett as having 4 “Big Time Throws” and 0 “Turnover Worthy Plays” in the game. What may have been most impressive is that Bennett was 4/4 passing for 71 YDS and 2 TD’s when pressured. He was pressured on a 5th dropback and that turned into a 12-yard scramble for a first down on 3rd & 10. Just how far Bennett has come was fully on display Monday night in Los Angeles. He was aggressive without being reckless. His decision making was perfectly balanced. That used to be the knock on Stetson. He showed off his legs in some key moments. He hit his checkdowns when it was smart to do but also made some tight window throws and put his playmakers in positions to make plays. Of all the things that exist to praise Todd Monken for, what he has molded Bennett into is perhaps the greatest testament to his skill as a coach. Bennett leaves as the most decorated Bulldog ever. The two-star from Blackshear is the man that ended the narrative around Kirby Smart’s mismanagement of the quarterback room. He played in four College Football Playoff games and was the MVP of every single one. He tied Joe Burrow’s record by being responsible for 36 points in a College Football Playoff game. The kid who threw a dip in on the sidelines after his first career start was under Center when Georgia went from the program that never quite finished to the preeminent program in the sport. You can’t get more Georgia than that. 


7) What should not be overlooked is how thoroughly Georgia dominated the line of scrimmage on this night. The UGA program was built on winning up front and they did just that all night long. Bennett’s targets were extremely efficient in the game. In addition to Bowers having 7 REC/7 TGT for 152 YDS & 2 TD’s, the rest of the cast did their jobs. McConkey had 5 REC’s on 6 TGT’s with 88 YDS & 2 TD’s. Jackson, Bell, Smith and Mitchell all had catches in this game, with AD having the highlight one-handed TD grab to emphatically end the first half with 38 points. They should all be praised for their efforts, but what stood out way more was the blocking done by UGA’s skill guys on the night. AD Mitchell drove a defender downfield 20 yards in front of Bennett on his opening drive TD run. McConkey was blocking DB’s all over the field. So were all of UGA’s guys. Darnell Washington’s blocking in the run game let UGA establish the run and put TCU on its heels early. It was like kryptonite to TCU’s 3-3-5 scheme. I said after the Oregon game that the elite perimeter blocking from the UGA skill guys could be the magic ingredient for this Georgia offense. In the end it was a huge part of what allowed them to be so dominant. There were so many extra yards created by the blocking downfield and on the perimeter. 


😎 Couple that with the dominant performance by the offensive line and you get 65 points in a national championship game. Georgia only allowed 5 pressures in a game with 29 dropbacks. You will win almost every time if your offensive line is playing like that. You know who deserves a big shoutout? Stacy Searels. Georgia fans and analysts (including me) widely questioned the hire when he was brought on board this spring. This UGA offensive line was an elite pass protection unit from the start, but they were not great run blocking for a lot of this season. They ended the year as an extremely strong run blocking unit. Georgia used the athleticism of its OL to pin down the bigger and slower LB’s of TCU. 24 of UGA’s 44 rushing attempts went either off tackle or off the end of the line with an Inline TE. Those outside runs averaged 5.2 YDS per carry. UGA was most succesful when running off the left side with an Inline TE. They had 6 attempts with 56 YDS for 9.3 YDS a carry. Those 6 runs lead to 2 TD’s and 4 first downs for the Bulldogs. Monken continued his career-long pattern of using an almost 50/50 split of Zone Scheme vs Gap Scheme runs (20 Zone to 17 Gap versus TCU). Want to know what dominance looks like? Georgia had runs of 10+ yards in 9 different gaps against the Horned Frogs…

Off left side with an Inline TE: 21 yards

Between Center and LG: 19 yards

Off Right Tackle: 18 yards

End-Around left: 14 yards

Between LG and LT: 13 yards

Off right side with an Inline TE: 12 yards

QB Scramble: 12 yards

Off Left Tackle: 12 yards

Jet Sweep left: 10 yards


9) This night brought some of the negative recruiting narratives around UGA’s offense to an abrupt end, but the Georgia program still has plenty of defense in its identity. This was a dominant performance by UGA at all levels. When I went to CFP Media Day on the Saturday before the game I was struck by how many smart people Kirby Smart has on his staff. Glenn Schumann might be the smartest of them all. He gave me some really interesting answers on what went wrong against Ohio State and said that stopping TCU would come down to two things… The first was bothering the QB. Georgia brought tons of different pressure packages and coverage looks at Duggan and confused him greatly. Ittranslated to 27 pressures for 5 sacks. More than anything, UGA’s pressure was timely in this game. Whenever TCU was in a 3rd & long it felt like Georgia was forcing Duggan off his spot. There were some moments early on where Duggan had guys open but couldn’t hit them because he had to make awkward throws on the run. Jalen Carter went out wrecking shop. He was blowing through double teams and at one point he drew at least partial blocks from 3 different TCU defenders. It left Bear Alexander with a clear lane to Duggan for a sack. Carter getting push early let everything else happen for UGA’s pressure packages. When you coupled that with creative blitzes from the back seven it was as good of a job getting pressure as we saw out of UGA this year. Tykee Smith got 2 Pressures and a sack on 4 pass rush snaps. Dumas-Johnson had 3 Pressures on 7 pass rush snaps. In contrast to last week, Mondon only rushed Duggan five times in the game. When I think back on this game years down the road the job done by UGA’s true freshmen and rotation players will be one of the things I remember. Bear Alexander announced himself to the college football world with 2 Pressures and a sack on 8 pass rush snaps (he also had a tackle for loss in run defense). Mykel Williams, another freshman, continued his ascent with a sack. Warren Brinson had a game that showed he will be a major piece of this defense next season by turning in 3 Pressures on just 5 pass rush snaps. That’s ridiculous productivity, but not as ridiculous as what we saw from freshman Jalon Walker. The young guy came up big for UGA down the stretch versus OSU and he continued that with 4 Pressures and a sack on just 6 pass rush snaps. Walker could be a double digit sack guy for UGA in 2023. 


10) The second thing that Schumann said UGA had to do better was limit explosive plays. He then explained that UGA classifies explosives as 15+ yard passes and 12+ yard runs. He said that every 10 yards of explosive plays allowed translates to roughly one point allowed. Against the Frogs they gave up just one explosive play for 60 yards. The Frogs scored 7 points. I say all that to say this… Georgia’s defensive staff sees more than you could ever possibly imagine. They are extremely knowledgeable on X&O schemes but they are also looking at every single angle and know the analytics… On the night the Bulldogs kept TCU from having a single run that would chart as an explosive by UGA’s internal grading. They held the Frogs to 21 carries for 74 yards (3.5 YPC) if you take the sacks out of the equation. Considering the 7.1 YPC they put up on Michigan the week before, this was a fantastic job by UGA. I thought that TCU was running the ball decently early in the game. They weren’t gashing the Bulldogs but they were getting some successful runs to stay ahead of the chains early on. Georgia’s offense was just so dominant that it game scripted TCU out of being able to run the ball and they had to play catch up. There wasn’t any Georgia defender who was particularly dominant in run defense but Carter and Stackhouse both flashed and jumped gaps to blow things up at times. Dumas-Johnson had 4 tackles against the run to lead the way for the Dawgs. 


11) The secondary performance was representative of how the Georgia team has operated for the last two years. Each time a legitimate doubt was raised about Georgia’s ability to execute something it was answered. After LSU was able to put up 500 passing yards on UGA I wasn’t super concerned. I thought UGA played soft in the second half of the SEC Championship. Then Ohio State was able to beat UGA’s corners for some big plays. That WR corps is unlike anything else in college football, but it was fair to wonder if TCU would be able to have some success through the air against Georgia. The Bulldogs took that personally. On the first drive there were some TCU wideouts breaking into space. Then Bullard missed a switch on Darius Davis and the game was 10-7. After that, Georgia played its best football of the season in the secondary. Nobody deserves more credit for that than Kelee Ringo. He was matched up on Quentin Johnston all night and gave the TCU star nothing. Ringo finished the game with UGA’s highest coverage grade. It was fitting. He became a Georgia legend for the “Chip Six” in Indy and then struggled at times this year. In a return to the championship game he played lights out. He was only targeted once after being thrown at 13 times last week. This performance will make him some money when the NFL Draft comes around. Javon Bullard made up for his bust with 2 INT’s and a fumble recovery. After the 60 yard catch he only gave up 9 yards on 2 REC/3 TGT the rest of the game. David Daniel-Sisavanh gave up a 23 yard catch to Davis later in the game, but besides that no UGA defender allowed more than 15 yards receiving. Christopher Smith ended his phenomenal career by forcing a fumble with an outstanding effort and allowing just 1 catch for 11 yards on 2 targets. Kamari Lassiter deserves major kudos for an appropriately strong finish to his stellar season. He gave up just 1 reception for 15 yards on 3 targets. 


12) The curtain calls were the moment it sunk in that Georgia had actually just showed up to a national title game and laid a historic ass whooping on its opponent in route to a repeat championship. The moment was appropriate on many levels. Bennett the two-star who once tweeted out excitement over an offer to UMass left the field for Beck and the heir apparent looked great throwing a rocket on a 4th down slant to Dillon Bell… Then Jalen Carter, Chris Smith, Robert Beal and Ringo left together. Two of them are underclassmen five-star recruits who shined from the moment they hit campus. The other two waited and fought for their spots on the field and have been at UGA for the vast majority of Smart’s tenure. All of them were leaders who learned to lead by being lead. To have a culture of accountability you have to have people who are willing to be held accountable. In the era of portal, NIL, etc. it is increasingly rare to find talented players who will let themselves be coached hard and lead. Those four earned the right to lead by first following. Nolan Smith was pushed onto the field for an applause and people around me started to cry. No figure in the UGA football program over the last 6 years has been more emblematic of the culture of selflessness that is required to reach college football’s mountaintop than Smith. He cried after the CFP Semifinal win on a night where he ran up and down the sideline pulling out a literal composure card and handing it to his teammates. He gave all of himself to finish what he started even if he couldn’t be on the field to do it. As the young guys shined in the fourth quarter it became clear that their efforts on the scout team have been crucial to allowing Georgia to reach a tier of its own in the sport. Smart talked after the game about Gunner Stockton volunteering to wear a contact jersey as he emulated Max Duggan on the scout team. He took hits from future NFL players all week to they would be ready for this moment. Jalen Carter woke up every morning and ran sprints after he had tired out against Ohio State. It would be very easy for a guy who will be a Top 5 NFL Draft pick in a few months to decide he didn’t need to do extra work on his own. The players who were on the field in the fourth quarter and the starters who return next year will have a chance to be back on the CFP stage next year if they follow the example that was set by the players who came before them. Smart says himself that entitlement is a disease. If UGA can continue to find the antidote to it they will have a legitimate shot to do something that has never been done in the modern era of the sport. That can be worried about later. For now I encourage you to celebrate where the Georgia program is. The team that used to always come one play short is now the team that finds the inches that nobody else in the sport can. These are the golden years for Georgia Football, and the man who has created this era is only 47 years old. Every program in the sport would trade places with the Bulldogs in a heartbeat and that will be true for some time to come. Let that sink in, and enjoy every minute of it.

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