Breaking down TCU’s offense vs. Georgia’s defense
LOS ANGELES — Max Duggan didn’t sugarcoat anything.
He knows he’s about to line up across one of the best — if not the best — players he’s ever faced.
Georgia star defensive lineman Jalen Carter figures to play a prominent role on Monday when his team tries to defend its national title against TCU at SoFi Stadium. Carter is a 6–foot–3, 300-pound disruptive force in the middle of the Bulldogs’ defense who could end up being the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft. A monster game on college football’s grandest stage would only enhance his case.
“I mean, the dude is so powerful,” Duggan said at media day on Saturday morning. “He’s so big. He’s fast. He’s twitchy. And he just causes so many issues for a lot of teams. We’ve got to make sure that we’re aware of where he’s at and make sure that we’ve got him dialed in because we know it’s gonna be a big challenge for us.”
Carter was a big challenge for Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl last week. But the Buckeyes figured out ways to neutralize him and limit his impact. Carter had only one tackle on 52 snaps, and quarterback C.J. Stroud, who isn’t known for his mobility, became slippery enough that he could evade Georgia’s indomitable force. Ohio State also used double teams and a moving pocket to frustrate the Bulldogs and keep Carter away from Stroud.
Duggan is more agile than Stroud, but can the Horned Frogs’ offensive line keep Carter at bay for four quarters?
“I don’t think you can neutralize him,” TCU center Alan Ali said. “He’s gonna make plays. He’s a great player. But I think we can come together as an O-line and get the stops that we have to. Because he’s going to have his moments, but we’re gonna have our moments as well.”
Carter was Georgia’s most experienced defensive player to return from last year’s national championship-winning team, and has been one of the most dominant linemen in college football this season. Even while he didn’t lead any statistical categories, his presence alone demands attention from multiple offensive linemen, which frees up other Bulldogs to make plays.
Carter also dealt with a nagging ankle injury for more than half of the season. He missed two games and came off the bench in four others, but described himself as “100%” before the Peach Bowl.
In his last seven games, Carter posted 25 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
“You know how special he is,” Duggan said. “You see everything that he’s done, and you know where he’s projected [to be drafted] right now.
“He’s such a stud and causes so many troubles for opposing offensive lines and teams. He’s so impactful, whether it’s him actually making plays and causing disruptions or him taking on double teams and allowing one on ones for other guys on his defensive line.”
TCU senior left guard Steve Avila isn’t fazed by Carter’s reputation. Especially not after the way the Frogs managed Michigan’s defense in the Fiesta Bowl. The Wolverines entered that game with the Big Ten’s top-ranked run defense, to which the Frogs responded by running for 263 yards and three touchdowns despite losing star running back Kendre Miller to an injury in the first half. Meanwhile, Georgia has the nation’s best rush defense, holding opponents to 3.0 yards per carry and just six rushing touchdowns through 14 undefeated games. Ohio State was only able to rush for 119 yards and a touchdown in the CFP semifinal.
“We know he’s a good player, but we treat him like any other opponent,” Avila said of Carter. “We know he’s really, really good. But our guys are good, too.
“I’ve gone against some really good players and I just feel like he’s another one.”
Aside from Carter, Georgia’s defense is dripping with future NFL talent, from Chris Smith to Smael Mondon to Kelee Ringo and Mykel Williams, who combined for 25 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks against the Buckeyes.
And Duggan knows his offense has to take advantage of any opportunity it gets. The Frogs simply have to execute and try to establish the running game on Monday to have a shot at pulling off a massive upset.
“They know what they’re doing,” Duggan said. “Not a lot of teams are as talented or as disciplined as those guys. They fly around the ball, they’re fast and powerful. They’re everything you want in a team. There are a lot of people that maybe have just one of those traits [on their defense], but they’ve got all of them.
“So it’s going to be a big challenge for us to make sure we execute and do our job, don’t get behind the sticks or give them momentum.”
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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