Strong defensive effort, fourth-quarter comeback lifts Georgia over Cincinnati

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Strong defensive effort, fourth-quarter comeback lifts Georgia over Cincinnati

JT Daniels #18 of the Georgia Bulldogs runs the ball during the 2020 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl NCAA football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and Cincinnati Bearcats, Jan. 1, 2021, in Atlanta. (Jason Parkhurst via Abell Images for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl)
JT Daniels #18 of the Georgia Bulldogs runs the ball during the 2020 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl NCAA football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and Cincinnati Bearcats, Jan. 1, 2021, in Atlanta. (Jason Parkhurst via Abell Images for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl)

In a game full of mistakes, No. 9 Georgia completed the 11-point comeback over No. 8 Cincinnati late in the fourth quarter as placekicker Jack Podlesny nailed a 53-yard field goal to put his team up 22-21.

Georgia players and coaches stormed the field not realizing that there was time still left on the clock. Officials gave the Bulldogs an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that would be assessed on the kickoff. Georgia punter Jake Camarda booted a rocket that was downed at the Bearcats’ two-yard line.

With one last chance, Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder took the snap and rolled right, but was sacked in the endzone by Georgia outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari. That resulted in a safety and gave the Bulldogs a three point-lead with no time left on the clock. Capping off a strong defensive effort from both teams, Georgia handed Cincinnati its first loss of the 2020 season.

Ojulari said after the game that making that sack was the highlight of his season.

“It was important for me to just make sure the seniors go out the right way,” he said. “Their last game, they worked so hard in this unpredictable season. You never know. I just got the opportunity to play another game, so I took advantage of it, to play with my brothers. It was great.”

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart mentioned after the game that it wasn’t the prettiest victory, but in the end, he was pleased with how his team battled back after adversity from a tough opponent.

“I’d like to start by saying the Cincinnati team had an absolutely incredible effort, toughness,” the fifth-year head coach said. “The way they played us defensively, I have a lot of respect for Luke Fickell and his team. The quarterback they have is a talented man. For people to try to take shots at their conference, their level of play, they got a really, really good quality football team, a lot of seniors on that team.”

Cincinnati is No. 8 nationally in total defense and limited Georgia to only 24 points. Interestingly enough, the Bulldogs only converted one of 11 third downs, which is alarming because that’s something the team excels at. Cincinnatti also held Georgia to just 45 yards rushing and 1.9 yards per attempt. Nevertheless, Georgia accumulated 449 yards of total offense with 404 coming from passing completions.

Daniels finished by completing 26 of 38 passes for 392 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Backup Stetson Bennett had one 12-yard completion. Georgia’s leading receiver was sophomore George Pickens, who had seven catches for 135 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore running back Kenny McIntosh followed by hauling in five passes for 43 yards and redshirt tight end John FitzPatrick had four catches for 41 yards. Redshirt sophomore Zamir White was Georgia’s leading rusher with 39 yards on 11 attempts and a score.

“Well, I’m certainly proud of our team,” Smart said. “I’m proud of the adversity we went through throughout the year with the pandemic. I don’t think we played our best game today. My hat is off to Cincinnati. They did a really good job of defensively controlling our run game, and offensively keeping us off balance enough with their quarterback run game, which we knew he was a good athlete, a good runner.”

Even though Ridder was mobile, Georgia sacked him eight times, which is a season-high. The Louisville, Kentucky native finished with negative 17 rushing yards on 15 attempts. But Ridder did take advantage of a young Georgia secondary by completing 24 of 37 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns.

Watch a fullscreen slideshow HERE.

Georgia was missing senior safety Richard LeCounte for all but one play in the game, alongside starting cornerbacks Eric Stokes and DJ Daniel. Seniors Jermaine Johnson and Mark Webb were also missing in action against the Bearcats. Nevertheless, Georgia’s defense came alive in the fourth quarter by only allowing Cincinnati 22 yards on 19 plays. The Bulldogs only gave up 85 yards in the third quarter, while 79 of them came on Jerome Ford’s long touchdown scamper.

It was a total defensive effort as Georgia shut down many of Cincinnati’s playmakers. Sophomore Nakobe Dean led Georgia in tackles with seven, although it was Ojulari and junior edge rusher Adam Anderson who stole the show. The duo combined for five of the team’s eight sacks, while the other three came from Quay Walker, Jordan Davis and Malik Herring. Junior safety Latavious Brini also had an impressive game with a career-high five tackles.

“Yeah, first off, the defensive guys were great,” Smart said. “We had a lot of guys come in and out of position, guys down. It was a really tough week in the secondary. We had Tyrique (Stevenson) having to move to the corner. He’s also the backup star. Brini was having to play a lot. We had a couple of days there where Lewis (Cine) possibly out with the protocol, then he was back in.”

Smart said that practice this past week was somewhat frustrated with all the opt-outs, injuries and contact tracing.

“Nobody really knows what went on in the last seven days to create major issues,” Smart said. “Travon (Walker) was not able to be with us today. We had some great practices. It changed every day. You couldn’t find a rhythm to say, ‘this is where guys are going to play.’ They rose up today. They played better as the game went on, I thought. Brini got more and more comfortable as the game went on.”

Even though Georgia’s offense wasn’t as productive as its been in recent weeks, the defense really played stingy in the second half. Collectively, both units coupled with special teams really relied on each other throughout the contest to pull one another out of various situations. So, overall all three phases of Georgia’s team played a sound game.

Daniels said after the game that he feels really well connected with the team, despite being new to the program this season.

“At this point, I feel like I’ve been here for years,” he said. “Instantly when I came in I felt a connection with the team, a connection with the way this program is run is the way I would say it. We’re all about ball. It’s something you can say about pretty much the whole team, is that everyone just loves football.”

Daniels commented, “We’re here to do our thing and be the best players we can be.”

This was the first bowl game Daniels has ever played in, and according to him, it was a remarkable experience to win it in such dramatic fashion.

“Every single day, every single practice, Malik Herring, Zeus, George, everyone goes out and practices to their best ability every single day with a focus on getting better,” he said. “Over the last two and a half months, I’ve really just enjoyed the time of being with like-minded guys that are all about work, all about ball, all about competing.”

Here is the video from the post-game press conference:

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Currently an intern for BI, and a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia.