When Sony Michel waltz his way into the end zone to cap off a Rose Bowl victory, it made perfect sense.
Of course Georgia was going to find a way. Of course the senior Lorenzo Carter was going to block the field goal in double overtime (the first field goal block of his entire football career). Of course another senior, and also the guy who committed a costly fumble, was going to get redemption. Of course Jim Chaney was going to dial up the perfect play to gash the Oklahoma defense one more time. Of course Kirby Smart’s climb to reach the top of the college football mountain wasn’t going to end with his defense allowing a season-ending touchdown.
Of course it was going to end up being Georgia’s night. It has been Georgia’s year. What made us think that was actually going to end in Pasadena?
Well, probably the fact that the Heisman Trophy winner was dealing all over the place. Many thought this would be the defining moment of one of the best college football players ever. For much of the night, that certainly seemed possible.
But the Rose Bowl wasn’t about one player capping off his legacy, or rather continuing it. It was about Georgia reminding everyone that even though the calendar turned, it’s still the Dawgs’ year.
The way the game started, it actually felt like Georgia was a new team in 2018. That smash-mouth defense that was supposed to contain Mayfield did anything but. The Dawgs didn’t even record a true defensive stop until the middle of the second quarter. At that point, it seemed like a monumental feat after Mayfield led the Sooners right through Smart’s unit.
For the first 30 minutes, Georgia looked extremely beatable. It wasn’t that long ago that those words were said about the Dawgs in the middle of a regular-season game.
Go back a year ago when Georgia, on its home field, had no answer for teams like Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt. The 2017 version of Georgia would look at the 2016 version of itself and swear it was adopted. Those flashbacks were probably all too real.
But halftime of the Rose Bowl felt like the 2016-17 offseason. Georgia’s seniors had to decide if they were all in. Georgia’s coaches had to make some schematic adjustments (Jim Chaney was just a wee bit pass-happy in the first half). Georgia’s freshmen had to grow up in a hurry.
If the Dawgs were going to have that season they’ve always wanted — or rather continue it — it was going to take a complete effort. Ans they got it, allowing Georgia to prevail.
Jake Fromm and Roquan Smith might’ve been the household names, but Georgia isn’t moving on to the national championship without a few of those unsung heroes.
Nobody will talk about the block Isaac Nauta made to free Michel on the game-winning touchdown. They’ll probably forget the tackle Reggie Carter made on third and 2 to hold Oklahoma to a field goal in the first overtime. The vast majority of college football fans will probably forget about the 55-yard bomb that Rodrigo Blankenship drilled to make it a two-possession game at the end of the first half.
All of those guys should have keys to the city for their efforts with the season on the line. Those are the plays needed to win championships. Those are the type of things that turned Georgia from a good program to a great program.
That was why Smart was brought to Athens. Nobody was going to praise him if he won nine games every year and took Georgia to the Citrus Bowl. This type of success always has been and always will be the goal. Well, at least it will be every year that Smart is in red and black.
Some skeptics probably still watched the Rose Bowl expecting Georgia to have a Georgia-like moment and come just short the ultimate prize. But this team, this program, this culture is different than it once was.
For some, it’ll take a national championship victory for that to really be true. For others, that was finally confirmed on Monday night. Maybe it was confirmed two weeks ago when the Dawgs started signing what looks like the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.
Georgia is attempting to pull off the Alabama trifecta: The top recruiting class, a conference title and a national title. That’s rare territory. Extremely rare. Florida did it in 2006-07, USC did it in 2004-05 and Alabama did it three times. That’s it. Now, Georgia is one win from joining that company.
But before the Dawgs can accomplish that, they’ll enjoy something they already achieved. For the first time in 37 years, the Dawgs will play for a national championship. They’ve reached the apex of the college football mountain.
The view from the top is clear. It’s all Georgia as far as the eye can see.