Georgia blocked Oklahoma’s shot for victory.
Lorenzo Carter leaped high to deflect Austin Seibert’s 27-yard field-goal attempt in the second overtime, and Sony Michel took a direct snap and raced 27 yards for the winning touchdown two plays later, sending the Bulldogs into the College Football Playoff national championship game with a 54-48 win in a thrilling semifinal at the Rose Bowl.
Eventually, Georgia’s edge in the trenches took hold. After slowing the Sooners in the second half, the Bulldogs’ defense held them out of the end zone in both overtimes.
The Sooners had rolled to 31 first-half points, when it felt like they could score almost at will. But things changed radically in the third quarter. Suddenly, Georgia’s defense was dominant. Baker Mayfield felt pressure – and unlike so many games throughout his career, was unable to escape it; he was sacked three times in the pivotal third quarter, which the Sooners spent bottled up in their own end of the field, and threw an interception on the first play of the fourth quarter, leading to the Bulldogs’ go-ahead touchdown. Offensively, Georgia’s running game kicked into high gear, with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel each scoring touchdowns on long runs.
Although Mayfield tied it with a fantastic drive midway through the fourth quarter – and Oklahoma took the lead on a defensive score – Jake Fromm matched him, leading the Bulldogs to the tying score with 55 seconds left.
Now, Georgia gets a shot at its first national championship since Herschel Walker carried the Bulldogs there in 1980. And it’ll happen in the very familiar, probably very friendly confines of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium – where the Bulldogs won the SEC championship last month, and where they’ll likely have a sizable home-field advantage.
Here are some observations from the Bulldogs’ victory:
1. Jake Fromm can play a little football, y’all
Georgia’s freshman quarterback was overshadowed in the run-up to the game by Baker Mayfield, the Heisman winner. And he didn’t touch the ball on the final play; Sony Michel took a direct snap to the house.
But Fromm engineered a tying drive in the final moments of regulation. Trailing by seven points with 3:22 left, Fromm drove Georgia 59 yards to tie it up. Fromm first scrambled away from a would-be sack and hit Sony Michel for a 17-yard pass. And on third-and-10 from the Oklahoma 23, he hit Terry Godwin for 16 yards, setting up the tying touchdown with 55 seconds left.
Fromm was 20 of 29 for 210 yards with two touchdowns and never made a debilitating mistake. Georgia is in very good hands.
2. Run the ball, Chaney
In the first half, Georgia fans had to be frustrated when their running game was very effective – but rarely used. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for 184 yards, including a 75-yard TD from Michel, on just eight carries. The Bulldogs had 11 rushes and 17 passes and trailed 31-17 at halftime, reminding of the days when fans loved to yell, “Run the ball, Bobo!” at then-offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. In the second half, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney got the memo: On the first play, Nick Chubb broke tackles en route to a 50-yard touchdown. Two possessions later, Michel turned third-and-7 into a 38-yard TD, tying it at 31 with :41 left in the third quarter.
Michel’s 27-yard TD to win it in two overtimes gave him 181 yards and three touchdowns on only 11 carries. Chubb finished with 145 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
3. Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker can do defensive adjustments
Discombobulated by Oklahoma in the first half, Georgia turned things around with a dominant third-quarter performance. Oklahoma led by 14 and got the ball to start the quarter. But Georgia sandwiched a pair of three-and-outs around a 50-yard touchdown run by Nick Chubb, then stopped Oklahoma again. Baker Mayfield, who was rarely touched in the first half, spent the third quarter on his back – including two sacks on consecutive plays to stall one possession. When Mayfield’s third-down pass intended for tight end Mark Andrews sailed high, it was an easy interception for safety Dominick Sanders, who returned it to the 4.
4. Lincoln Riley’s offensive game plan to start things off was exquisite
The rookie head coach’s well-earned reputation as a strategist and playcaller was on full display from the beginning, when Baker Mayfield connected with fullback Dimitri Flowers on consecutive plays for 26 and 16 yards. The Sooners mixed runs and passes – and had especially nice calls on third downs, including screens to beat blitzes and shallow crossing routes that became long gains. The tour de force came at the end of the first half, when on third-and-goal from the 2, Riley dialed up a toss to Flowers going left … that became a reverse to receiver CeeDee Lamb … that finished as a run-pass option for the receiver, who lofted an easy touchdown pass to Mayfield in the back corner of the end zone.
We thought that looked familiar, Baker ... pic.twitter.com/uvzqcleOu0— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) January 2, 2018
5. A squib kickoff by Oklahoma near the end of the first half was a bad idea
After that late score, Oklahoma led by 17 points with 6 seconds left in the half. Rather than kick deep and cover a possible return, the Sooners chose to kick very short. Georgia took possession at midfield, leading to a 55-yard field goal as time expired. It sent the Bulldogs into halftime trailing by 14 points instead of 17 points, and with a whiff of momentum that carried over into the third quarter.
6. Oklahoma’s defense made a huge fourth-quarter play.
Decent defensively in the first half, the Sooners began to wear out in the third quarter. And then, after Mayfield had tied things up in the fourth quarter, the Sooners came up with a game-changing play.
Sophomore linebacker Caleb Kelly forced a fumble from Georgia running back Sony Michel; safety Steven Parker scooped it up and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown, giving Oklahoma the lead again with less than seven minutes left.
The unit would follow that up with a three-and-out to give the offense a chance to salt the game away.