The Georgia Bulldogs trailed by 17 points with nearly half the game gone. They trailed by seven inside the final minute. They went to overtime, where offenses are supposed to hold sway, against the nation’s No. 1 offense.
And they won. In one of the greatest moments in the history of a program that, not so long ago, wondered if its great moments had been relegated to history, Georgia beat Oklahoma 54-48 on Sony Michel’s 27-yard touchdown burst in the second overtime to advance to the College Football Playoff Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium one week hence.
Said Michel: “When I scored a touchdown, I knew it was over. We finally get a chance to play for something big.”
There could well be one more shining moment awaiting these Bulldogs – but it will take some doing to top this. On a day when it seemed the entire population of Georgia had convened in California, they took a major hit from sleek Oklahoma and the Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. Not only did they stay upright, they managed to limit the Sooners to one offensive touchdown over the final two quarters plus both overtimes.
If not for Steven Parker’s fumble return off a Michel fumble, Georgia would surely have won in regulation. As it was, the Bulldogs forced a three-and-out when the Sooners had the chance to kill the game, drove 59 yards in seven plays to tie matters on Chubb’s 2-yard run off a direct snap – the freshman quarterback Jake Fromm’s 16-yard slant on third-and-10 was the vital play – and then forced a four-and-out when the Sooners, with 55 seconds and three timeouts at their disposal, could have won it at the end of regulation.
Into overtime. Oklahoma won the toss. Georgia had to settle for a Blankenship field goal. Georgia forced Oklahoma to accept a tie. Then the Sooners were forced to kick yet again, and Lorenzo Carter – one of the four juniors who spurned the NFL to play another collegiate season, Chubb and Michel being two of the others – blocked it. Then Michel won it. Another flashing run off another direct snap and this Instant Classic was done.
Georgia had won the first overtime game in Rose Bowl annals, the first seen so far in the College Football Playoff. Georgia had won a game it appeared, for long and nervous moments in the first half, that Georgia had lost. But what was it that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had said last week? This team simply plays so hard. In the end, effort and talent and coaching carried the day
The Bulldogs were aided and abetted by Lincoln Riley’s end-of-half blunder. The game turned just after Oklahoma executed maybe the sweetest plays any Rose Bowl has ever seen – a double-reverse pass to its famous quarterback for the touchdown that gave the Sooners a 17-point lead with six seconds remaining in the half. At that moment, Georgia looked all but beaten. But that moment folded into another moment that changed this game forever.
Even as he was being hailed as the genius of geniuses, the Oklahoma coach made a choice that will haunt the Sooners for as long as they play the sport. A squib kick – do squib kicks ever work? – allowed Georgia to position itself for Blankenship’s 55-yard field goal that closed the half on an upbeat note that Georgia didn’t really deserve.
To their credit, the Bulldogs took their gift and ran like crazy with it. On their first snap of the second half, Chubb ran 50 yards to make the score 31-24. On Georgia’s final snap of the quarter, Michel burst 38 yards to tie it at 31-31. (Michel would finish with 181 yards rushing and three touchdowns, Chubb with 145 and two.)
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Dominick Sanders intercepted a terrible Mayfield pass. Two plays later, Fromm found Javon Wims for the touchdown that gave Georgia a lead that would have seemed unthinkable if you hadn’t grasped that the Bulldogs, in less time than it takes to say “Rodrigo from 55” had gone from being dominated to dominating.
Mayfield, who had been ill, looked sprightly in the first half, throwing two touchdown passes and catching a third. He wore down thereafter, or maybe the irresistible Bulldogs simply wore him down. He finished with a lesser quarterback rating than Fromm. Georgia came within four yards of matching Oklahoma in total offense, which only went to show that the pregame analysis had it right: The sounder team won. The team that played good offense and good defense won. Georgia won.
And now Georgia gets the chance to win again, to claim its first national championship since the 1980 season in the capital city of its home state. It will take some doing for anything to top this breathless day-into-night at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, but the beauty of these Bulldogs is that, just when you think they can’t, they do.
They keep playing. They “keep chopping wood,” to use coach Kirby Smart’s phrase. They just felled the stylish Sooners and their swaggering quarterback, and now they’ll face Alabama, the gold standard of college football. Bama has Nick Saban and the aura, but there is, it must be said, something extraordinary about these Bulldogs. They’re still standing. It would no shock if they’re the last team standing. Not after this.