I’m sure some of you will freely admit that you gave up on this game multiple times. And the rest of you are lying through your teeth.
For most of the night it looked like it would be a disappointing ending to a surprising season. A Georgia squad that was supposed to be in rebuilding mode after sending 15 players to the NFL Draft built momentum through the year and emerged by midseason as the favorite to win the national title. But on this night they met a foe that didn’t play scared, that hung everything out there in an effort to pull a program-defining upset.
It almost worked. Ohio State led for over fifty-eight of the sixty minutes of game time. Again and again the Athenians stubbed their toes on the way to climbing back into this one. It seemed over and over like it just wasn’t Kirby Smart’s night. But in the end Georgia demonstrated that they’ve reached the horror movie villain stage of Smart’s dynasty building. You can’t stab them and walk away. You better stab them four times, douse the body in kerosene and have a visual on it when you push the plunger on the dynamite charges. Because they just never give up.
Frankly, even if Ohio State kicker Noah Ruggles had hit that 50 yard field goal I would have still held my head high about how this team fought. It was a shame that either of these teams had to lose a college football playoff game that will go down as a classic of the genre.
A great deal of credit is owed to the Ohio State offense generally, and quarterback CJ Stroud in particular. Stroud finished the night 23 of 34 passing for 348 yards, 4 touchdowns and no turnovers. He added another 34 yards on the ground, including a late 27 yard scamper that looked for all the world like it would set the Buckeyes up for a winning field goal. The teams combined for exactly 1000 yards of total offense, which I don’t think anyone expected. When you score 41 points on this Georgia defense you’ve done something notable, something that should win you the football game. Unless the Georgia offense does something even more mind-boggling in response.
There were plenty of things to fault in this game for the victors. After suffering some early setbacks the Red and Black took the lead 24-21 with a minute to go until halftime and looking to extend the lead. But what ensued was arguably the most disappointing “middle eight” of the season. Kirby Smart preaches winning those critical four minutes at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second. Instead his team gave up 14 points in that interval that could have lost the football game.
The Bulldog offense struggled at times, and didn’t look the same to me when Darnell Washington left. The Buckeye defense that committed to stopping Brock Bowers did just that for most of the night. But when it mattered most Bowers came up big, picking up a critical third down conversion on a drive that led to a Jack Podlesny field goal and another catch on the final touchdown drive. He finished the night with 64 receiving yards on 4 catches, despite a concerted effort to take him out of the game.
Georgia’s leading receiver on the night was Arian Smith, who seemed to exorcise a career worth of injuries on a single night. Smith finished with 129 yards on only 3 catches, one a 47 yarder to set up a Kendall Milton touchdown run. The other will go down as one of the most critical plays of this season. With Georgia trailing 38-27 and chances of victory dimming in the 4th, Smith streaked down the left side as the Buckeye defender covering him slipped, and the speedy receiver trotted into the end zone for a 76 yard score that drew the Red and Black within 3 points and reignited their flagging hopes.
Georgia made a lot of mistakes. But in the end they made the plays they needed to win this football game. We knew coming into this one that the team that executed better would have a decided advantage. Ohio State, with the exception of a couple of poor coverages and presnap penalties executed well for most of the night.
Georgia executed when it needed to most. Kirby Smart called what, I’m willing to bet actual American currency, was the best timeout he will ever call as a football coach to snuff out a Buckeye fake field goal with serious 2005 West Virginia Sugar Bowl vibes. Stetson Bennett threaded the needle on a handful of beautiful throws after appearing for much of the night as if he got mixed up and enjoyed his postgame Pappy Van Winkle before the game. AD Mitchell caught the game winning pass after not catching a pass since the second week of the season. Jack Podlesny missed nearly as many field goals as he had all season, but then hit one and a key extra point when it mattered.
There is a lot to clean up. There are some injuries that could affect the team going forward. But these are problems for another day. Georgia is one of only two football teams that gets to keep playing college football this season. That’s special. Very special, and I hope we never lose sight of that, no matter what happens on January 9th against TCU. These are indeed the magical, golden days of Georgia Bulldog football. Here in the wee hours of a budding new year, the good times of 2022 continue. Let’s go win another one, folks.