With their biggest second-half deficit of the year against an Ohio State team that identified and took advantage of all their weaknesses, the Georgia Bulldogs mounted a ferocious fourth-quarter comeback to win the Peach Bowl, 42-41, and make history by becoming the third team in school history to play in the College Football Playoff championship game. Georgia will play TCU on Jan. 9 in an effort to become the first programme to win back-to-back championships since Alabama in 2011 and 2012, having gone 40 years without a national championship.
And of all things, a timeout could have been the play that helped propel them there.
With Georgia expected to recover the ball and Ohio State behind by 11 points in the fourth quarter, Georgia coach Kirby Smart saw a fake punt and took a timeout just before Ohio State snapped the ball on what would have been a first down for the Buckeyes.
Instead, Georgia recovered possession of the ball and scored on the very next play, when senior quarterback Stetson Bennett threw a 75-yard pass to an unguarded Arian Smith. With 2:43 left, Ohio State was held to a 48-yard field goal, thus Georgia received the ball needing just a score to win.
And Bennett, who had a difficult third quarter, came through. With 54 seconds left, Bennett found Adonai Mitchell in the left corner of the end zone after moving the Bulldogs 72 yards in five plays. Only whether Georgia gave Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud too much time was in doubt.
Stroud put the Buckeyes in scoring position, but with three seconds remaining, kicker Noah Ruggles horribly missed a 50-yard field goal that was well left of the uprights, giving Georgia the victory.
Three Observations from the Bulldogs’ Victory are as Follows:
1- Stetson Bennett battled until it mattered most:
The senior quarterback for the Bulldogs has participated in several pivotal contests and performed admirably in them, notably last year when they defeated Alabama to win the national title. Bennett, though, appeared inexperienced, tense, and undecided in crucial situations for a substantial amount of this game.
Bennett only completed one out of three throws while Georgia had only 33 total yards and appeared to be entirely out of its play-calling groove in the third quarter. Bennett would have received a lot of the criticism if the Bulldogs had lost this game, particularly for the first-half interception he threw that gave the Buckeyes a short field and allowed them to score for a 21-7 lead.
However, Bennett, a former walk-on, stepped up when it mattered most. Bennett added a new chapter to his illustrious career by completing 10-of-12 passes with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter while trailing 38-24. The Bulldogs’ last hope came from Bennett as Georgia struggled to run the ball in the second half, gaining just 12 yards on the ground. He did.
2- The powerful Buckeyes arrived and executed well:
A vaunted all-gas, no-brakes Ohio State offensive sputtered in the Michigan game for whatever reason. That includes head coach Ryan Day, who in the second half when things were deteriorating made some startlingly cautious choices.
The Buckeyes were determined to go all-out in the semifinals when given a second chance to prolong their season. Ohio State did not worry too much about establishing the run and instead relied on Stroud to push the secondary at every opportunity, knowing that their only hope in this battle was to take advantage of a poor Georgia pass defence.
It depended on whether the Buckeyes’ offensive line could keep him safe for the duration of the game.
It did. Georgia only forced Stroud to the ground four times, and the game’s most disruptive defensive tackle, Jalen Carter, was strangely inactive for the majority of it.
With wide receivers all over the field, it was essentially target practise for Stroud when he had time to pass and a clean pocket. The finest of them, Marvin Harrison, Jr., managed 106 yards on five catches and appeared to be unable to be stopped by Georgia’s defensive backs.
After being brutally struck in the back of the end zone by Javon Bullard towards the conclusion of the third quarter, Harrison left the game and may have had an impact on the fourth quarter.
In the end, Stroud completed 23 of 34 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns, giving his greatest performance when it counted. Just not enough for Ohio State to triumph.
The “Middle Eight” almost caused Georgia to lose:
The so-called “Middle Eight” — the four minutes before and four minutes after halftime — are increasingly cited by coaches and analytics experts as a vital period where many games are won and lost.
That’s where the Buckeyes came dangerously close to winning.
With 1:44 remaining in the first half, Ohio State made a crucial stop to restrict Georgia to a 32-yard field goal. Ohio State then sped down the field in 55 seconds, finishing the drive with a 37-yard throw from Stroud to Xavier Johnson to take a 28-24 lead into halftime.
After forcing a fast three-and-out on defence early in the second half, Ohio State came out and took control of the game by driving 70 yards in six plays.
That left Georgia, which had only before faced having to come back against Missouri earlier this season, in a situation with which it was obviously unfamiliar and uncomfortable. The game looked to be hanging by a thread for Georgia after that, with every Ohio State possession having the potential to blow things wide open.
Ohio State’s offence was limited to three field goal attempts and two punts on its final five drives by Georgia’s defence, which quickly organised.
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