Mondays aren’t my favorite day of the week. I imagine the 9th of January in the year of our lord 2023 will forever be remembered in subsequent disgust by those who love purple, Fort Worth, and the TCU Horned Frogs. It’s hard to find words to describe how grotesque TCU’s performance was against the now repeat national champion Georgia Bulldogs. It was a kind of shootout, but what do you call a one-sided version of that? Oh, yes, a massacre.
I think the allure of the Dawgs and Frogs matchup was that if TCU showed up in Hollywood and executed their best game while making the champs uncomfortable, it would result in a beautiful David vs. Goliath storybook struggle for the ages. Instead, Sonny Dykes’ Davids managed to shoot themselves square in the forehead with a stone in front of a national audience, and then Goliath ate them.
For those who are fans of well-played football, Georgia executed their plan seamlessly and showed themselves to have zero offensive weaknesses the Frogs could exploit. Impressively, UGA’s defense masked secondary deficiencies by neutralizing Max Duggan with seemingly minimal resources. Georgia did to TCU what Michigan was supposed to be able to, which was to apply pressure using only the front four, leaving seven to roam the secondary, which led to two bad interceptions in the first half.
TCU’s defense was an abject disaster. Georgia proved to be nearly flawless, using their incredible depth of talent — especially at tight end — to expose TCU’s safeties and linebackers in coverage when they weren’t being gashed by UGA running backs. In a recent Zoom interview with the Weekly’s Edward Brown, I spoke to concerns about vulnerabilities up the seam against those ends and that I thought quarterback Stetson Bennett was the more talented passer but Duggan had the edge as a rusher. Bennett, who ran for two untouched scores, showed he held both advantages as he finished his masterful career with six total touchdowns before presumably starting his chain of car dealerships throughout Athens. Bennett and his Bulldogs were so dominant that the senior was pulled at 52-7 with nearly the entire fourth quarter remaining. If a running clock were such a thing in a national title game, or a mercy rule, it would have been instituted.
The title game started poorly with the news that TCU’s best running back, Kendre Miller, wouldn’t play.
“No Miller,” I texted my former Clark-Hall roommate. “I don’t like that.”
An early fumble by Derius Davis after Georgia scored easily on their opening drive drove a stake through lingering hope, knowing that for all the comebacks achieved by these resilient Frogs, none of them had been against a team like this. In fact, the closest TCU’s defense came to a stop in the first half was forcing Georgia into a field goal for an early 10-0 deficit, which turned out to be the Bulldogs’ only non-touchdown drive of the half. TCU’s first — and only — appearance in the end zone came on the next drive, mostly thanks to a busted coverage and long reception by Davis. Duggan capped that effort with a short rush and the Frogs’ only points of the game.
For all of the outstanding narratives from TCU this season, it ends with the most lopsided national championship in the history of a set game being played (about 37 years). The narrative of the SEC’s vast superiority to every other conference will continue for the foreseeable future. Everyone in “It Just Means More” country will shout throughout their message boards that Alabama should have been chosen in TCU’s stead and that the Crimson Tide’s victory over Kansas State is transitive proof that Bama would have been the correct choice. Georgia’s survival against Ohio State, who was beaten handily by Michigan, is an important reminder that football is a game dependent on execution and matchups. Georgia showed up knowing how lucky they were to retain their opportunity despite their flat first half against the Buckeyes. Dykes and company couldn’t execute and fell victim to a superior game plan and team in Georgia — all the wordsmithing in the world won’t change or describe it any better. TCU’s defense surrendered more points in a championship game than any team ever. The previous worst performance was Nebraska hanging 62 on Florida back in the ’96 Fiesta Bowl when the Huskers bested the Gators by 36 points. The College Football Playoff, specifically, doesn’t possess a stellar record of recently competitive final games. Over the previous four contests, the average point differential is 22, including a 28-point loss by Alabama against Clemson. The semifinals have historically been even worse, so the possibility of two competitive New Year’s Day games in addition to a nail-biting championship weren’t strong.
Despite Monday night’s retina-burning performance, this season was still far and away the most successful since the undefeated Rose Bowl winners under Gary Patterson and in a much more difficult conference. The Horned Frogs with an opportunity — however violently dashed — to win their first national title in 84 years is an unimaginable success. TCU played football on a night when all eyes were on them. The Hypnotoads didn’t do anything well in this game, but the future is bright with coaches Dykes, Garrett Riley, and Joe Gillespie (assuming Riley doesn’t take a head-coaching job). This year’s success has already manifested with bushels of transfer and high-school talent who are committed for next season. This was a special group of athletes who will and should be remembered fondly despite this seismically awful demise during a game no one thought they could advance to anyway. In many ways, my last football-centric column of the season feels like an obituary. We all witnessed our collective fandom hopes and dreams — however slight — die in a flurry of Bulldog touchdowns and tackles.
Just like many situations in life, expectations are the thief of joy. I, as a Frog fan, maintained almost zero hope of purple success for a group that won five games last season, fired their foundational head coach, and hadn’t traveled to a bowl in four years. If you’re an optimist, you reminisce on the joys of an overtime victory against Oklahoma State, walk-off win versus Baylor, and pure domination over Oklahoma and Texas. Then there was the Fiesta Bowl victory against Michigan, which returned TCU to national brand status and delivered a week of watching, reading, and hearing the national media dissect the Frogs and the tiny school in Fort Worth they represent. It’s acceptable — however briefly — to pontificate that we’d have been better off dropping a close game against Michigan and the Georgia genocide never taking place, but that’s a coward’s mindset. TCU played in a game 128 other teams wished they could have, regardless of the result. Of the actual matchup, they blew it, and there’s nothing positive to be gleaned from the film except as motivation for next year’s Frogs. Sonny Dykes’ next squad will be vastly different, and at the end of the day, TCU, Fort Worth, the State of Texas, and the Big 12 owe this year’s team a great debt of gratitude and deserve all of our collective admiration.