PASADENA, Calif. – Call it a game for the ages, call it unbelievable but however you want to describe the Georgia-Oklahoma matchup in the College Football Playoff semifinal in the 2018 Rose Bowl here Monday night, the only thing that matters to Bulldawg Nation is that a UGA football team that trailed the Sooners by as much as 31-14 in the second quarter staged a remarkable second-half comeback to stun Oklahoma 54-48 in a game that went two overtimes.
And for the now 13-1 Bulldogs, they are headed for the CFP National Championship game back in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Monday night to face Alabama (who upended No. 1 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl by 24-6) and Kirby Smart’s old mentor Nick Saban, due to a pair of huge plays by Georgia in the second overtime period.
Following a wild shootout over four quarters that ended in a 45-45 deadlock, both the Bulldogs and Sooners matched field goals in the first overtime stanza to blink the board to 48-48, Georgia’s score coming on Rodrigo Blankenship’s 38-yarder when the Bulldogs had the ball first.
Then came the dramatic second OT period. With the Sooners up to bat first at the 25-yard line, it appeared the Bulldogs had prevented Oklahoma from scoring when Deandre Baker intercepted Baker Mayfield in the end zone. But with defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter being whistled for offsides on the play, it gave Oklahoma a first down at the 15-yard line. But again, the Georgia defense – which had surrendered 31 points in the opening half to Mayfield and the quick-wheeling Sooner offense – denied the Sooners another first down at the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line, Oklahoma called on Austin Seibert again for a 27-yard field goal that would have lifted the Sooners up by 51-48. But when Seibert struck the ball this time, there was the hand of Georgia’s senior outside linebacker, Lorenzo Carter, soaring up to block the kick, a play that sent the Bulldog fans of some 50,000 or so into mass celebration.
For the UGA faithful knew that the Bulldogs now only needed another Blankenship field goal in their turn on offense to punch their ticket to the national title game back in their home state. But as things turned out, a field goal by the Georgia placekicker wasn’t needed. After freshman tailback D’Andre Swift lost two yards on the Bulldogs’ first play, Sony Michel took a direct snap, bounced out to the left sidelines and raced in the end zone corner for a 27-yard touchdown that made Georgia a 54-48 winner and simultaneously brought every member of the team pouring onto the field to celebrate one of the grandest comeback victories in the program’s long and successful history.
And, once again, it was the sensational tailback duo of Michel and Nick Chubb that paved the way to a dominant second half by Georgia. Michel, getting the game’s MVP offensive honor, and Chubb staged one of their most powerful combined showings as Michel ran for 181 yards on 11 carries and three touchdowns while also catching four passes for 41 yards and another score and Chubb dashed for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. That made for a 16.5 yards per carry showing for Michel and a 10.4 average for Chubb. That performance enabled the Bulldogs to pound the Sooner defense for 317 yards net rushing.
Passing wise, the sensational freshman Fromm wasn’t too shabby either, completing 20 of his 29 attempts for 210 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. Senior Javon Wims led the receivers with six catches for 73 yards and one touchdown while Terry Godwin showed five receptions for 51 yards.
The Georgia defense, which seemed to be on its heels the entire first half while allowing the Sooners one explosive play after another, really came to life in the second half and overtimes, surrendering only a short Mayfield touchdown pass and the Seibert field goal in the first overtime. The other Oklahoma touchdown came on a scoop-and-score when Steven Parker picked up a Michel fumble and raced 46 yards.
Of course, Oklahoma, with its hurry-up offense, also put up big numbers on the night as the Sooners got 287 yards passing from Mayfield, on 23-of-35 completions with one interception by Dominick Sanders, and OU leading rusher Rodney Anderson gashed the Bulldog defense for 201 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns as the Sooners barely nipped Georgia in total offense, 531 yards to 527.
Once again, it was that man Roquan Smith who led the way. Named the game’s outstanding defensive player, the Georgia junior linebacker recorded 11 tackles, one being for loss. Lorenzo Carter, in addition to his crucial field goal block in the second OT, also contributed 10 tackles and a half-sack and tackle for loss. Ledbetter, Tyler Clark, D’Andre Walker and David Marshall all recorded sacks of Mayfield as the Bulldogs dialed up the heat on the Heisman winner in the second half.
The Bulldogs, as mentioned trailing the Sooners by the 31-14 tally with just six seconds until the halftime break, got a bit of life when for some reason Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley decided to squib kick the ensuing kickoff. When the ball went only to the Oklahoma 47-yard line, the Bulldogs took possession and after Fromm hit Terry Godwin with a 9-yard pass to the Oklahoma 38, Blankenship came through with a career-long 55-yard field goal at the halftime buzzer to pull Georgia back to within 31-17 at the break. At the time, no one realized how big Blankenship’s clutch three-pointer, which was a new Rose Bowl game record, would turn out to be. Georgia’s two touchdowns in the first half had come via a 13-yard pass from Fromm to Michel plus a dazzling 75-yard touchdown run by Michel when he burst into the Oklahoma secondary and outran the Sooner defensive backs to the north end zone.
The Bulldogs then proceeded to reel off 21 unanswered points in the third quarter and start of the fourth to wrest their first lead of the game at 38-31. Chubb got things going when he bounced off two Oklahoma would be tacklers and sped 50 yards to the end zone. Then with just 41 seconds left in the third, his buddy Michel broke off a 38-yard scoring scamper. Then it was a 4-yard pass from Fromm to Javon Wims with still 13:57 left in the game that sent the Bulldogs into that 38-31 advantage, as the Georgia fans in the East stands and both end zones roared their approval. The touchdown pass was set up when senior Dominick Sanders picked off the 16th pass of his career and returned the ball 39 yards to the Oklahoma 4-yard stripe. Sanders, with the interception, tied the school career record jointly held by Jake Scott and Bacarri Rambo.
But the 2nd-ranked Sooners weren’t about to roll over and play dead at this point. As they did the game long, the Sooners took it to the end zone in a hurry, an 11-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield to Dimitri Flowers along with the subsequent PAT kick knotting the game at 38-38 with 8:47 to play.
Then, alas, the Bulldogs committed their lone turnover of the night to flip the momentum back in Oklahoma’s favor. Fighting for extra yardage, Michel lost the handle on the football and Sooners strong safety Parker scooped up the ball on the sideline and rambled 46 yards untouched for an Oklahoma touchdown. With 6:52 left, the Sooners had regained the lead 45-38.
But as they had all night, the Bulldogs battled back. Though they failed to convert a first down on the series following the Oklahoma score, the Georgia defense, which came to life mightily in the second half after staging what Kirby Smart termed a “horrible” performance in the first half when they allowed Mayfield and tailback Anderson to fashion one big play after another, forced another Sooner punt. Then taking over at their own 41, Fromm connected with Godwin and Michel with 15 and 17-yard gainers and then came back with another 16-yard strike to Godwin, to the Oklahoma 7. A pass interference call on the Sooners advanced the ball to the OU 2, from where Chubb took the snap out of the Wild Dawg formation and went in the end zone untouched off the right side to cap a 59-yard, 7-play drive in the game’s final three minutes. With only 55 seconds to go in the regulation game, Blankenship’s kick evened the score at 45-45.
After the Bulldog defense forced another Sooner punt in the waning seconds, Fromm took a knee with just 17 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. And as detailed above, the rest of the story in the two overtime stanzas made for a very sweet finish for the University of Georgia and an opportunity for the Bulldogs to now claim their first national championship since the 1980 season.
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