The flourishing of advanced statistical analysis in sports, and college football specifically, has given us a whole new way of understanding the game. But not everyone had the skill or inclination to break down advanced statistics. I for example didn’t take college algebra so much as algebra took me.
So I thought it might be worthwhile for those of us who are triggered by trigonometry to review some statistics literally anyone can understand. A simple guide to the numbers that even I see could be key as Georgia looks to hoist the national championship trophy.
5. The number of teams other than Georgia which have appeared in a national title game in the playoff era (Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Clemson, and Ohio State). After besting Ohio State in the Peach Bowl Kirby Smart has now beaten every single one of them in his tenure. My point is that these are indeed the good ole days of Georgia Bulldog football. While one title doesn’t make a dynasty, and two is more a trend than an era, at this moment there is no doubt that the rest of the sport is looking up at the boys from Athens.
0. The number of sacks Ohio State All-American left tackle Paris Johnson had surrendered in 2022 before freshman Mykel Williams ran through him for a key one in the Peach Bowl. Williams is now second on the team with 3.5 sacks, and I think will be a key player tonight. If Georgia can get to Duggan early and often there’s a chance he makes some key mistakes. Duggan has only thrown 6 interceptions all year, but 3 of them have come in TCU’s last two games (one in the Big XII title game loss to Kansas State and two against Michigan, though both were off deflections).
48. The percentage of Max Duggan’s 225 passing yards against Michigan that came on just two receptions by TCU junior receiver Quentin Johnston. Duggan was the Heisman semifinalist. But for my money Johnston is the best player on the Horned Frog offense, amassing 1066 yards receiving this season. He’s a big (6’4, 215 pound) fast receiver who runs smart routes and will fight you for the ball, not entirely unlike Marvin Harrison, Jr. He will very likely be the top receiver on a lot of NFL draft boards this spring and the first player off those boards at the receiver position. But if the Red and Black can shut him down, I don’t know that the HypnoToads are going to be able to consistently move the ball. There is a lot of speed elsewhere in the TCU receiving corps, but Johnston is project #1.
20. TCU’s very un-Big XII rank nationally in rushing offense (Georgia is 23rd). Sonny Dykes’ squad has run for a very respectable 204.50 yards per game, and I frankly didn’t have them pegged to go for 263 on the ground against Michigan. Duggan is not a drop back passer, and play action has been the key to his success in the passing game all year. If Georgia can hold the Horned Frogs under 150 yards on the ground I expect they have a great chance of winning this one.
40. The number of offensive plays of 50+ yards from the TCU offense this season. That leads the nation by a healthy margin. If there is one number that should give UGA fans heartburn it’s probably this one. Georgia’s defense thrives on getting pressure with 4-5 rushers, tackling well, and forcing offenses to go 70+ yards on 12+ plays to reach the end zone. That’s a hard ask against a unit with the talent and depth the Classic City Canines have. But TCU can turn that strategy on its head in mere seconds. They will get some big plays in this game. Georgia absolutely must tackle well in the open field to avoid giving up 28 points on four bad snaps. Avoid those haymakers, and you’re in great shape.
0. The number of Bulldogs to run for 1000 yards or tally over 800 yards receiving in Todd Monken’s tenure as the offensive coordinator at Georgia. That despite finishing 41st (2020), then 25th (2021), and finally 8th (2022) nationally in total offense. It’s a pretty safe bet that Georgia could (theoretically) kneecap the Horned Frog offense by making Quent Johnston a non-factor. Georgia however forces you to account for playmakers all over the field, running and passing, in a variety of personnel groupings. The ‘Dawgs will again need a complete team effort to outscore TCU.
4/5. TCU’s ranking respectively in scoring defense and total defense in the Big XII. For most of the year the Horned Frogs were a fairly decent defense in a conference that doesn’t historically take defense too seriously. They gave up 26.4 points per game to a series of offenses much less efficient and explosive than Todd Monken’s. But what they lack in down-to-down consistency they’ve made up for much of the year with big plays in key moments. At no time was that more on display than in the Fiesta Bowl, in which they returned interceptions for touchdowns in both the first and third quarters. If Bad Stetson shows up and gives up 14 points the easy way then it could be a bad day for UGA. But if Georgia is smart with the football and takes advantage of their opportunities, I have a hard time seeing the Bulldogs held under 35 in this one.
6. Total career kick return touchdowns by TCU’s Derius Davis (5 on punts, 1 on a kickoff). It sounds cliched to say that the key for a college football underdog to pull an upset is to force turnovers and make plays in the kicking game. But many cliches contain a kernel of truth and this one is no different. If we’re looking back at this one as the title that got away from Kirby Smart it will almost certainly be because of some combination of missed field goals, busted kick coverages, and red zone turnovers. Barring that, the ‘Dawgs can repeat as champions by simply taking care of business.
Georgia is a prohibitive favorite according to DraftKings precisely because they have a big talent advantage over the Frogs. Tonight will be about that talent performing consistently and turning their hard numbers advantage into hard reality on the field.