It’s noted that No. 9 Georgia had a roller coaster of a 2020 season, although it ended on a good note, as the Bulldogs overcame an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat No. 8 Cincinnati in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
The comeback was capped off by Georgia placekicker Jack Podlesny‘s 53-yard game-winning field goal with three seconds remaining. His teammates rushed the field in excitement picking him up as they carried him off in celebration. Although, the Bulldogs didn’t realize time hadn’t expired yet, so they had to wait an extra few moments to soak in the moment of victory.
Before the season, not many people knew who Podlesny was, but now his name will live on in the Georgia history books. The St. Simons Island native had a big responsibility coming into the season, in which he had to fill the shoes of former Georgia superstar Rodrigo Blankenship. That’s a tall task to take on, but Podlesny, or ‘Hot Pod’, did just that.
“That was my first game-winning kick,” Podlesny said smiling in his postgame press conference.”It was a dream come true, to be honest.”
Podlesny finished the game by making all three of his attempts. His 53-yarder was the longest of the day, but he did convert kicks from 37 and 32, respectively. The redshirt sophomore finished the season by connecting on 81 percent (13 of 16) of his field-goal attempts, which currently ranks fourth in the SEC.
Podlesny told Smart that he felt comfortable trying attempts from anywhere around that mid-50 yard range.
“I told coach (Smart) before the game, I was good inside 55, 54 yards,” he said. “Our offense drove. Once we kind of got there, I tried to slow my breathing, because I didn’t want to rush anything, I didn’t want to overcompensate for anything.”
Prior to that, Georgia trailed for most of the game dating back to the second quarter. The defense stopped Cincinnati on third-and-two as quarterback Desmond Ridder’s pass was broken up by Georgia defensive back Tyrique Stevenson with 1:28 remaining in the fourth-quarter. That stop was crucial because it forced the Bearcats to punt.
That’s when Georgia quarterback J.T. Daniels threw four stunts that were all completed. The Bulldogs edged closer when Daniels found tight end John FitzPatrick on a four-yard out-route. The Southern Cal transfer couldn’t hook up with freshman receiver Jermaine Burton, so that’s when Podlesny jogged onto the field.
Podlesny said before the drive that he knew it was time to start preparing himself.
“At the beginning of the drive, I’m over in the kicking net,” he said. “I’m starting to warm up, just kind of get my leg loose again, kind of keeping an eye on the clock, especially just so I know where we’re at, whether we’re going to have to call a rushed field goal. As they drove down the field, I felt comfortable that I was warmed up. I went further down, just stayed there, and made sure I was ready to go if I needed to be called.”
Daniels said that he believed Podlesny could convert, but admitted that he had a gut-wrenching feeling in his stomach.
“There’s definitely a lot of emotions, but I’m trusting Pod, I actually didn’t feel any pressure to get the ball past the 35, because I knew Pod could do it,” he said. “We see it every day in practice. But yeah, right there at the end, I was on my knees saying some prayers.”
Smart said he didn’t even need to give his placekicker any advice as he jogged out for the game-winning attempt.
“I don’t mess with Jack,” said the fifth-year head coach. “I don’t mess with kickers, I just let them do their thing. But that’s about the spot where we work on it every week, and if we get that spot, we’re probably going to make it.”
Following the made attempt, Georgia punter Jake Camarda boomed a kickoff that was downed at the Cincinnati two-yard line. On the last play of the game, Bulldogs’ redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari sacked Ridder in the endzone, which resulted in a safety. That put Georgia up 24-21 as the clock ran out.
Georgia’s defense was a reason that the Bulldogs were able to stay in the game and Ojulari was the center of it as he finished with three sacks, plus two forced fumbles. According to him, the defense just did its job the way they’re asked.
“I mean, we just stayed within the game plan, executed, did everything the coaches wanted us to do,” he said. “We made sure we had to get this win for the team. The momentum, we just used it. It helped us our way, yeah.”
Podlesny said that he never doubted his teammates.
“I just had faith in our defense and offense that they would stop the other team,” he said.