TCU's dream of winning CFP title quickly became a nightmare
By JOE REEDY
INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) TCU coach Sonny Dykes sensed something wasn't right with his team when they came into the locker room after pregame warmups for Monday night's College Football Playoff championship game against Georgia.
It was just the start of what turned into a snowball effect that overwhelmed his team the rest of the night as the Horned Frogs' dream of turning into the princes of college football became a grim nightmare.
All the strengths that helped carry TCU to the title game were quickly taken away by Georgia in a 65-7 blowout loss at SoFi Stadium.
"You could sense some tension in the room (before the game). We haven't had that in the past. We've been pretty loose," Dykes said after his team finished 13-2 in what had been a storybook season. "The guys were really excited to play, really fired up to play. I thought we were probably just a little too fired up, maybe a little too emotional. And as a result did some things that we don't normally do. I just don't think we were in the state of mind that we needed to be in.
"We just dug such a big hole for ourselves. We never could quite get them stopped defensively. We never could get out of our own way on offense."
It was the most points TCU allowed in a game since a 70-35 loss at Texas Tech on Sept. 18, 2004.
Quarterback Max Duggan was under pressure most of the night, the defense was unable to keep the Bulldogs out of the end zone and three first-half turnovers contributed to Georgia opening a 38-7 lead at halftime. It was cruise control from there for the Bulldogs.
Duggan, a Heisman Trophy finalist, completed 14 of 22 passes for 152 yards and two interceptions. The only time he got in any sort of rhythm was on the Horned Frogs' third drive of the game, which ended with the senior rushing around left end for a 2-yard touchdown to bring them within 10-7 with 4:45 remaining in the first quarter.
The touchdown was set up three plays earlier when Duggan connected with Derius Davis for a 60-yard completion to the Georgia 11-yard line.
The rest of the night, Duggan tried to avoid pressure, but was sacked five times. Even when he tried running on keepers, he often couldn't find an opening and didn't gain much.
"I think tonight was one of those nights where at least offensively we couldn't get anything rolling," said Duggan, who came out of the game midway through the fourth quarter. "They were playing well on defense. We were shooting ourselves in the foot. I was making bad decisions. I wasn't executing well and not putting us in a position to score some points and move the ball."
Any hopes Duggan and TCU had of a comeback ended late in the second quarter when he threw his interceptions on consecutive series and Georgia converted both into touchdowns.
TCU's defense ended up being as overmatched as the offense. Stetson Bennett, receiver Ladd McConkey and tight end Brock Bowers found openings in the secondary and often had at least 3 yards of separation on receptions.
The Horned Frogs had held opponents to a 25.9% conversion rate on third down, but Georgia was 9 of 12.
"We just kind of beat ourselves up. Kind of just executed on our mis-alignments and kept scoring on those," linebacker Dee Winters said. "We just kept beating ourselves up, just overthinking, trying to run too fast to the ball and things of that nature."
After being predicted to finish seventh in the Big 12, TCU was the first school from the conference in the CFP era to get to the championship game.
Dykes said it will take awhile to get over the sting of a huge loss, but with early freshmen enrollees starting classes next week, there won't be much of a break before preparing for next year.
"Obviously we didn't do a great job getting our guys prepared," Dykes said. "We've been on heck of a run, and it seemed like we just ran out of steam a little bit tonight. ... To come this far in a year is pretty remarkable, and got a lot of guys in that locker room that are hurting right now."
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Updated January 10, 2023