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Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Georgia strays from script but rallies, now one win from title


It was a Big 12 kind of game. It was a Georgia kind of finish.

The team that entered the season believing defense and a strong running game could carry it to something special took a bit of a detour in the Rose Bowl. Smash-mouth gave way to video-game football, the kind of we’ll-just-outscore-you-and-win-on-the-last spasm type of football that got Oklahoma to the playoffs and but led to smug mocking by those in the world of the SEC.

But the Bulldogs acclimated. They were run over for touchdowns on Oklahoma’s first three possessions, rallied from a 31-14 deficit with 27 consecutive points while taking the lead, coughed it back, then ultimately won in double overtime because of -- tada! – defense, a special-teams play, a great run.

Georgia held Oklahoma out of the end zone in two overtime possessions, Lorenzo Carter blocked a 27-yard field-goal attempt in the second OT and Sony Michel broke loose for a 27-yard touchdown run.

Final score: Georgia 54, Oklahoma 48.

The teams combined for 12 touchdowns, 102 points and 1,058 yards.

It was fun. It was chaotic. It was all so wrong. Glory Glory nearly became Gory Gory. But it ended so right for a program and a fan base that has been thirsting for its first national championship in 38 years.

“We’re finally playing for something big,” said Michel, who rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns.

The Dogs are one win away. As every other conference covers their eyes, it will be an all-SEC national championship. Georgia faces Alabama in the national title game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after the Crimson Tide defeated Clemson 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl.

It’s Nick Saban (mentor) vs. Kirby Smart (student). Not that the game needed a major subplot. Georgia playing for the national championship game in Atlanta is more than enough to stick the city in an electric socket.

Can one night erase so much past Atlanta sports history?

“They kept fighting. They believed. We didn’t play the way we’re capable of but the important thing is we kept fighting and we have a chance to play again,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart.

This is only Smart’s second season as head coach. So the joy of this achievement dwarfs any other emotion. But his roots are in defense, so it wasn’t surprising to hear him also say after the game, “I’m really disappointed and upset. Man we stunk it up and played bad.”

He’ll get over it.

It’s actually a perfect scenario for Smart: He can celebrate a win while telling his team it needs to be so much better. A very Saban-esque situation.

Georgia’s only national two titles came in the 1980 (a win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl) and 1942 (a win over UCLA in the Rose Bowl) seasons. That second championship came by a 9-0 score. This game wasn’t that game. This game wasn’t like most football games, certainly not on this stage.

Georgia trailed 31-14 late in the first half. Bad Sooner flashbacks, man. Smart was Alabama’s defensive coordinator in 2013 when Oklahoma scored 31 points in the first half of the Sugar Bowl on the way to a 45-31 upset over the Crimson Tide. But normalcy returned in the second half for the Georgia defense. It harassed Baker Mayfield and sacked him three times in the third quarter, igniting a 27-point turnaround for a 38-31 lead. Georgia’s go-ahead touchdown on a 4-yard pass from Jake Fromm to Javon Wims was set up by Dominick Sanders’ interception and return to the six.

Only 8:47 remained. Oklahoma, which scored touchdowns on its first three possessions, suddenly seemed anemic. Mayfield looked sick again. Until he didn’t. The Heisman Trophy winner suddenly played as if he had been given a B-12 injection on the sideline. He completed a 36-yard pass, then ran for 22 yards, then tied the score with an 11-yard score to Dimitri Flowers with.

Michel, who would become the game’s offensive MVP, fumbled and the ball was returned 46-yards for a touchdown, giving Oklahoma a 45-38 lead. Then Georgia came back again and tied the score on a touchdown by Nick Chubb.

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The teams swapped field goals in the first overtime. Carter and then Michel became heroes in the second. Ball game.

Georgia’s defense entered this game ranked third nationally in points allowed (13.2) and fourth in total defense (270.9) and fifth in first downs (14.6).

Pfft. Analytics.

Oklahoma obliterated the Dogs in the first half. They drove to touchdowns on their first three possessions, with drives stretching 80, 75 and 69 yards. They smacked down that Big 12-can’t-hang-with-the-SEC narrative, totaling 31 points, 360 yards and 16 first downs on six possessions. They led 31-17.

This was not what happened last time Georgia played in the Rose Bowl. They beat UCLA 9-0 in January 1943. Oklahoma must’ve studied the tape.

 But the game turned, and strangely enough it started after Oklahoma’s squib-kick from hell. The Sooners had just taken a 31-14 lead on a 2-yard touchdown pass to (not from) quarterback Baker Mayfield on a double-reverse pass option with nine seconds left in the half. Oklahoma called for a squib called. It was botched. Georgia had a short field and quickly capitalized with a field goal. Then the defense woke up and the offense followed. More chaos ensued. It was that kind of game.

Michel and and Chubb (145 yards, two touchdowns) led the offense. Carter had 10 tackles and shared a sack. This was the reason they came back, even if the game wasn’t according to script. They’ll take. it.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.