Savor the moment, Dawgs fans: This was one for the ages

The post-game celebration at SoFi Stadium, as captured by Junkyard Jr. (William T. King/special)
William T. King

Did we just watch the greatest Georgia football game of our lives?

The greatest Georgia football game ever?

That’s what I asked a couple of Bulldog buddies with whom I text during Dawgs football games.

“No doubt,” my buddy Joel responded. “It was as close to a perfect game as you will ever see, and a historic win.”

Or, as TCU head coach Sonny Dykes could be seen saying on the sideline after yet another score by the Dawgs: “Wow.”

Javon Bullard intercepts a pass, one of three turnovers he accounted for in the game. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)
Hyosub Shin, Dawgnation

Of course, you could argue that, while Monday night’s 65-7 win was the most dominant performance by a Georgia team we’ve ever seen, the lack of drama in the one-sided contest kept it from being the “greatest” game, from a viewer’s perspective. And, if this were just an ordinary game, I might agree.

But, this wasn’t any ordinary game; this was the College Football Playoff National Championship, so the team that lost automatically has to draw a certain level of respect — even if they did get their ass handed to them by the Dawgs.

This game for the ages wasn’t just a thing of beauty for Dawgs fans, though. It was the continuation of the sort of run that has the look of a dynasty in the making.

Consider: The No. 1 National Champion Georgia Bulldogs have won: 33 of their last 34 games … 17 games in a row (tying a school record) … the 2022 SEC championship … back-to-back 2021 and 2022 National Championships … and Top 5 wins in the past two seasons over Ohio State, TCU, Tennessee, Alabama, Michigan and Clemson. Georgia finished the season not just undefeated, but with a record of 15-0, joining Clemson (2018) and LSU (2019) as the only 15-win teams since the late 1800s.

With the win over TCU, Georgia earned its fourth national championship and became the first team to win back-to-back titles in the CFP era. The only other teams to win two straight titles since 1990 have been Nebraska (1994-95), USC (2003-04) and Alabama (2011-12).

Tight end Brock Bowers had another big night against the Horned Frogs. (Jason Getz/AJC)
Jason Getz, Dawgnation

After surviving an ever-so-close thriller against Ohio State in the semifinal, Kirby Smart’s Dawgs scored the most points ever in a CFP championship game and won not just by the largest margin of victory (58 points) ever in a natty, but by the all-time largest margin in any bowl/postseason game.

So, quarterback Stetson Bennett was asked, how did the Dawgs do that? His answer: “Brutal, cold execution.”

If ever a team fully met the moment, this was it. When DJ Shockley of the Bulldogs radio network had asked Smart shortly before kickoff what he wanted to see from his team, Smart responded: “Aggression.”

And that’s certainly what he got. Speaking after the game, the Georgia head coach elaborated: “We want our kids to play without fear. Like I told our kids all year, we’re not going to be hunted, we’re doing the hunting … And we hunted tonight.”

If you hear an audio file circulating on the Internet of Smart addressing his team in the locker room before the game, you know he put things somewhat more colorfully there. And, his players obviously took it to heart, on both offense and defense.

Stetson Bennett runs for one of his two rushing scores against TCU. He accounted for 6 TDs overall. (Jason Getz/AJC)
Jason Getz, Dawgnation

The Dawgs’ offense joined Ohio State (2015) as the only College Football Playoff teams to rush and pass for more than 200 yards in the title game, posting 38 points on 371 yards on 40 plays in the first half alone, and finishing with 65 points on 589 yards of offense in 72 plays.

And, on defense, Georgia became the first team to hold TCU scoreless in a half this year, and they sacked Heisman Trophy runner-up Max Duggan 5 times.

TCU came in ranked 5th nationally in scoring (41.1). However, they scored just 7 points on 188 yards of total offense on 51 plays against Georgia.

There were numerous highlights for Dawg fans during the game. Cornerback Javon Bullard was Defensive Player of the Game (a repeat of his showing in the CFP semifinal), despite not playing in the second half due to an injured shoulder. Bullard accounted for all three turnovers (2 interceptions and a fumble recovery), which led to 17 points.

The only defensive lapse of the night came on a long Duggan pass that set up TCU’s lone score, when busted coverage left the receiver wide open.

Ladd McConkey makes one of his 5 catches against TCU in the national championship game. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)
Hyosub Shin, Dawgnation

On the offensive side, tight end Brock Bowers was the leading receiver (with 7 catches for 152 yards and 1 touchdown). It was Bowers’ seventh game of 100-plus yards receiving. Meanwhile, Ladd McConkey had 5 receptions for 88 yards, including a 37-yard TD and a 14-yard TD. AD Mitchell also made a terrific one-handed TD catch, managing to hold on to the ball despite the defender trying to wrest it away from him as they fell in the end zone.

Also in the game, Georgia had its fourth drive of 90-plus yards on the year, going 92 yards on 11 plays in 5:43, capped by a 6-yard Bennett scoring run. It was an awesome drive that showcased the 25-year-old quarterback at his best, using his arm and his legs.

For the game, Georgia rushed the ball for 254 yards, with Kenny McIntosh notching a team-high 50 yards on 6 carries while junior Kendall Milton had 33 yards and 10 carries. Milton notched the team’s third rushing TD of the night while freshman Branson Robinson had 2 touchdowns, as the Bulldogs scored a school record 44 on the year.

Despite all that offense on Georgia’s part, you’d think the folks at ESPN might have wished for a more competitive game, but they were too busy enjoying the Stetson Bennett Story. I lost count of the number of times the words “storybook” and “Hollywood” were used in describing how the former walk-on had to beat out higher-rated contenders (and overcome his own coaching staff’s indifference to his talents) to achieve legendary status.

Against TCU, Bennett had a whale of a game, completing 18 of 25 passes for 304 yards, including 4 TD passes, and scoring 2 more TDs running on plays where no Horned Frog defender even touched him.

TCU quarterback Max Duggan is tackled by Georgia’s Bear Alexander, one of 5 times he was sacked by the Dawgs. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)
Hyosub Shin, Dawgnation

He was named offensive MVP of his fourth consecutive playoff game, and is the first ever to be named offensive player of the national championship game twice.

With 13:25 left in the 4th quarter, Smart called a timeout just to let Bennett have a curtain call from the loud UGA contingent on hand at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. The Mailman certainly finished with a special delivery, achieving a 29-3 mark as a starter. In four CFP games, Bennett completed 67.8% of his passes, going 78-for-115 for 1,239 yards, 12 TD passes, 1 interception, plus 2 rushing TDs. On Monday, he tied a CFP National Championship Game mark by accounting for 6 TDs, matching what LSU’s Joe Burrow did in 2019.

And, Bennett set the UGA single-season mark for passing yards (4,127), eclipsing the old record of 3,893 yards set by Aaron Murray in 2012. He took the record away from Murray on a 11-yard completion to McConkey in the first quarter.

Georgia’s 17 points in that stanza was a season high for a first quarter, and the most ever in a first quarter in a CFP National Championship Game.

Entering this game, there probably were some Stetson-never cranks out there in Bulldog Nation still grumbling about No. 13, but, hopefully, they now will shut up. Forever.

Smart, interviewed on “SportCenter,” correctly summed up Bennett’s impact on the UGA football program: “He’s the greatest Dawg of all time, in my opinion.”

Let’s also take a moment to consider what Smart has achieved. After a loss on Nov. 7, 2020, the former Georgia player was 48-14 as the Dawgs’ coach. Smart now is 81-15, with 2 national championships, and he has exceeded Georgia fans’ wildest expectations.

Head coach Kirby Smart gets a congratulatory kiss from wife Mary Beth as he is surrounded by his family after Georgia’s win. (Jason Getz/AJC)
Jason Getz, Dawgnation

Vince Dooley got the field at Sanford Stadium named after him, Wally Butts and Harry Mehre have their names on the athletic headquarters. What is UGA going to name after Kirby Smart when the time comes?

And, let’s also stop to think about what a momentous achievement back-to-back national titles is for the Georgia program, especially considering all that NFL talent that left after last season. Winning a second consecutive national title seemed like a far-fetched dream this time last year, though the talk about repeating picked up after Georgia boat-raced Oregon in the opener, and gained momentum as the season progressed.

Which brings us to where we stand now. After we had watched “SportsCenter” and “SEC Football Final” Monday night, my daughter was headed off to bed when she stopped at the top of the stairs, looked back at me with a smile and said, “Same time next year?”

Yeah. I can see that happening.

Once midnight had passed Monday night, I realized that it was now a special day for another reason, too — the centennial of the birth of the best man I’ve ever known, my father.

Among the many things he taught me, William D. King raised me as a lifelong supporter of UGA, and sent me to school there.

My late father absolutely loved them Dawgs, and I know that Monday night he was sporting the biggest, silliest grin of anyone up in Bulldog Heaven.

It’s great to be Georgia Bulldog, isn’t it, Pop?

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