Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on, is now a two-time national title winner.
The Bulldogs overwhelmed TCU on Monday night 65-7, jumping on the Horned Frogs early and building a 31-point halftime lead on their way to earning a second consecutive College Football Playoff National Championship at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
Bennett accounted for four scores in the first half alone. The 2022 Heisman Trophy finalist finished with 304 yards through the air and six total TDs (four passing, two rushing), which tied Joe Burrow's CFP era (since 2014) title game record. Burrow accounted for six TDs in LSU's win over Clemson in the 2020 title game. Bennett was named the title game's Offensive MVP for the second year in a row.
However, the other Heisman finalist in the game, TCU's Max Duggan, had a nightmarish performance. He was harassed and frustrated by a ferocious Bulldogs defense, throwing for just 152 yards and two interceptions.
Georgia became the first team to win back-to-back national championships since the Alabama squads of 2011 and 2012. Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart was the defensive coordinator for that Nick Saban-coached team. Smart still trails Saban in head-coaching national titles, seven to two. But on Monday, it was Saban -- in the stadium as an analyst for ESPN -- looking down on the field at his former assistant celebrating his ascent to college football's mountaintop for a second straight season.
TCU came in the clear underdog on Monday night, and yet even the biggest Bulldogs fan might not have predicted how the first half went.
Bennett capped off an impressive opening drive with a touchdown run, a 21-yard dash that flashed some eye-catching speed from the QB, a great kick-out block from left tackle Broderick Jones and some poor eye discipline from the TCU defense, which keyed on running back Daijun Edwards on the read-option.
After falling behind 10-0, Duggan hit speedy wide receiver Derius Davis for a 60-yard gain, although Davis had to come back for the underthrown pass. With the catch, Davis was able to atone for his fumble the series prior that led to a Georgia field goal. The Horned Frogs would cap off that 75-yard drive -- their best of the night -- and make it a 10-7 game.
But Georgia just relentlessly attacked early and often, refusing to let TCU get fully off the mat. The Bulldogs gained 11 yards on three straight plays, showing just how mismatched the Horned Frogs were on defense. And that was before Bennett hit a wide-open Ladd McConkey for a 37-yard touchdown.
It got worse quickly for TCU. The Bulldogs outscored the Frogs, 21-0 in the second quarter to take a 38-7 halftime lead. Bennett capped the brilliant first half with a TD strike to Adonai Mitchell, who made a one-handed grab. It was quite a departure from the first half in the semifinal game against Ohio State, when Smart said Bennett needed to settle down at halftime.
What helped was that Georgia's defense dominated TCU early in a way it could not against LSU in the SEC Championship Game or versus Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. It was a shockingly poor night for Duggan, but also for TCU receiver Quentin Johnston. Johnston was shadowed early by Georgia cornerback Kelee Ringo -- who had a rough game against the Buckeyes -- and was held to just one three-yard reception on Monday. Duggan appeared to overthrow Johnston for what could have been a big gain but ended up in the arms of Georgia's Javon Bullard, one of his two interceptions in the game.
Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, who was held down early against Ohio State, broke out early against the Horned Frogs. He caught a game-high seven passes for 152 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown. Also, he rushed twice for 15 yards -- a truly unique offensive weapon at the position in college football. Bowers, a true sophomore, won't be eligible for the NFL draft until 2024, at the earliest, but he should be one of the foundational pieces of a 2023 Georgia team that will be replacing several key players. After Georgia piled on three more second-half TDs, many of the Bulldogs playing their final collegiate game were pulled from the contest early in the fourth quarter, replaced by a fresh batch of highly touted recruits preparing for future dominance.
But in the end, the night was about Georgia's defense and Bennett.
Because the game got out of hand early, some of the Bulldogs' draft-eligible stars had trouble racking up impressive stats. But the team numbers say it all: TCU had nine first downs and 36 rush yards on 28 carries. Georgia collected five sacks. Ringo deserves credit for his work on Johnston, and defensive tackle Jalen Carter flashed some dominant reps early, including a tackle on the sideline after a quick screen.
Bennett's NFL potential will be a fun, if not predictable, pre-draft debate. The knocks against him are well-worn turf: his age and his physical traits. He's 25 years old -- older than Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts -- and is listed by Georgia at 5-11, 190 pounds.
And as Bennett showed early against Ohio State in the Peach Bowl, he's also prone to some wild snaps as a passer and decision maker. But the Bennett we saw in the fourth quarter of that game and on Monday night is more of the performer he's become.
No one should be surprised by Bennett's quickness on his first TD run versus TCU or his 12-yard sprint on third-and-10 in the second quarter. He has proven he's a decent athlete who can keep plays alive with his legs -- he had a 64-yard TD run this season against Auburn.
Clearly, it's the overall success and big-game performances that give Bennett the most shine as a prospect. That's what could get him drafted at some point on Day 3.
But that talk is for another day. With 13:25 left in the game, Bennett was pulled with his team up 52-7, capping one of the more unexpected college football journeys in recent memory. He arrived at Georgia without a scholarship, needing to reroute via junior college just to get a chance to play for the Bulldogs. Now, Bennett will leave UGA as one of the most decorated quarterbacks in school history.