ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — No. 1 Georgia is far from satisfied, despite being unbeaten and one win away from back-to-back national championships,
Coach Kirby Smart and quarterback Stetson Bennett said Saturday night's 42-41 College Football Playoff semifinal win over Ohio State showed flaws the Bulldogs must fix in practice this week. That need to improve provides extra motivation for the national championship game against quarterback Max Duggan and No. 3 TCU on Jan. 9 in Inglewood, California.
“We didn’t play our best game, starting with me,” Bennett said after the Peach Bowl win over the Buckeyes. “Coach Smart said in the locker room, we had two three-and-outs to start the second half. Like that doesn’t happen, and that falls on me, and that falls on our offense. We’ve got to fix that. So we’re going to go to work.”
Bennett, the former walk-on who last season led Georgia to its first national title since 1980, has usually saved his best performances for the biggest stages. He delivered another clutch effort with two fourth-quarter scoring passes against Ohio State as the Bulldogs rallied after trailing by two touchdowns.
Overall, Bennett threw for a career-high 398 yards with three touchdowns but he bemoaned his mistakes, including an interception, that helped place Georgia in a 38-24 deficit in the fourth quarter. Noah Ruggles’ 50-yard field goal attempt for Ohio State with three seconds remaining sailed wide left, setting off a celebration on the Georgia sideline.
“Got to go back and look at the tape and see what we could clean up because it felt like there was a 30-minute period there where I just played bad football,” Bennett said. “So we’ve got to fix that.”
Bennett, who also ran for a touchdown, was named offensive MVP for his fourth consecutive postseason game, including both CFP games last season.
Georgia's proud defense has set season highs for points allowed in two straight games, including a 50-30 win over LSU in the Southeastern Conference championship game. After allowing 502 passing yards to LSU, the Bulldogs gave up 348 yards with four touchdowns through the air to Ohio State's C.J. Stroud.
Georgia's defense allowed 10 or fewer points in six regular-season games, including two shutouts, but defensive back Javon Bullard says expectations change in the offseason when facing the nation's top teams.
“We knew coming into the game, it wouldn’t be perfect,” said Bullard, the defensive MVP. “You come into a game like this, college playoff, we know you are going to give up some plays, they are going to make some plays, we’re going to make some plays. You can’t get too high up and can’t get too low.”
The defense will be challenged by high-scoring TCU in the national championship game. The Horned Frogs average 41.1 points per game to rank fifth in the nation following a 51-45 win over No. 2 Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal.
Georgia, which leaned heavily on its defense in its 2021 national championship season, fell from second to fifth in the nation in scoring defense, at 14.79 points allowed per game.
Smart said the Bulldogs “didn’t play our best football game” against Ohio State. “If we want any chance at winning a national championship, we have to play a lot better football,” he said.
Georgia had a team meeting on Monday to review the Ohio State game and will open practice for the national championship game on Tuesday.
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