Georgia’s 2-TE set uncertain for national title game vs. TCU

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — A big part of Georgia’s offense – big in every way – could be hampered in the national championship game against TCU.

Georgia’s two-tight end formation is uncertain due to an ankle injury suffered by Darnell Washington in the College Football Playoff semifinal win over Ohio State. That could mean changes for Stetson Bennett‘s passing game when the top-ranked Bulldogs try to win a second consecutive title in Inglewood, California, against the third-ranked Horned Frogs.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after the 42-41 win over Ohio State he didn’t know if Washington’s injury was a high ankle sprain, which usually requires more recovery time.

Washington is “an unbelievable talent,” Bennett said. “But if he can’t go, then we’ll just have other people step up. That’s the way it works here. And it’s about the team. We want to have him. We’d love to have him. He’s one of the game-changers we have. But if we don’t then we still have to go win a football game.”

Smart offered no more details about Washington’s injury, saying only that he hoped to have all his injured players available against TCU, which beat Michigan 51-45 in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal.

Two of Georgia’s four leaders in receiving yards are tight ends. Brock Bowers (6-4, 230 pounds) leads the team with 56 catches and won the John Mackey Award given to the nation’s top tight end. Bowers often is joined in two-tight end sets by Washington (6-7, 265) who excels as a powerful blocker and ranks fourth on the team with 426 receiving yards on 27 receptions.

“They like to use their tight ends the majority of the time,” TCU linebacker Dee Winters said. “And I think Bowers is a really good tight end that they’ll try to target against us.”

Freshman Oscar Delp likely would be next in line if Washington is limited or unable to play. It is not known if that would limit the Bulldogs’ two-tight end sets and cast a larger spotlight on wide receivers, where there is talent but no established standout.

Bennett threw to 10 different players as the offense piled up in the Peach Bowl and the leading receiver was running back Kenny McIntosh whose five catches included a 25-yard touchdown.

Speedy receiver Arian Smith caught a 76-yard touchdown and the 10-yard TD pass to Adonai Mitchell with 54 seconds remaining sealed the win. Smith and Mitchell played key roles after Ladd McConkey was slowed by a knee injury.

TCU coach Sonny Dykes said his Horned Frogs don’t have the luxury of focusing on only two or three receivers in Georgia’s diverse passing game.

“That’s the thing that’s unique about this team,” Dykes said. “Most of the time you play against a good team and there’s two or three guys you say, look, we’ve got to really take this guy away. But Georgia has just so many good players and guys that are really exceptional talents. You can’t go into a game and just say, OK … if we take this guy away then they’re going to have problems. That’s not the case with their offense.”

Smith proved his big-play potential with his three catches for 129 yards against Ohio State.

“His role has increased probably with every week this season,” Smart said. “It may not have always shown that way in the stat line or in the number of snaps played. … So he has grown and developed and gotten better and better and better. And he really just got more opportunity to do what he’s been doing.”

Dykes said Georgia has “a ton of playmakers.”

“They’re going to show you different looks,” Dykes said, adding Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken “does a nice job of staying ahead of people. As they adjust, he adjusts. And they do a really good job getting their best players the ball.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.