Rapid Reaction: Georgia rallies all the way to the National Championship Game
Assuming Baker Mayfield was healthy and ready, the question was never whether Georgia’s defense could slow down Oklahoma’s offense.
The question was: Could Georgia’s offense keep up?
It did. And how. And that’s why Oklahoma is heading home for good, and Georgia is heading home to play in the national championship game next Monday in Atlanta.
Sony Michel — who else? — raced into the end zone for the winning touchdown as Georgia rallied to beat Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime Monday in Rose Bowl Playoff semifinal.
For the ninth time in 10 Playoff games, the winner topped 31 points. Oklahoma got there first, in the first half no less, before Georgia raced back, emphatically. Michel won it, but none of it would have been possible without a remarkable third quarter comeback.
The Dawgs wiped out a 17-point deficit by scoring 24 consecutive points. Despite the scoreboard dictating perhaps another way, Georgia leaned largely on its proven running game for huge plays, scoring touchdowns on runs of 75, 50 and 38 yards.
As dominant as Georgia’s offense looked in the second half, Oklahoma was equally unstoppable in the first.
It was the most points Georgia allowed all season but don’t let that distract anyone from a dominant third quarter that set up the classic finish.
This was the highest-scoring Playoff game in history, and the fireworks started early.
Mayfield connected on his first four passes as Sooners raced 80 yards in six plays for an early 7-0 lead. Mayfield capped the perfect start with a 13-yard strike to Marquise Brown. The Heisman Trophy winner accounted for 63 yards in the drive; three of his four completions gained 13 or more. Each started with the threat of a jet sweep, designed to keep Georgia’s pass rush at bay.
Georgia answered, doing what it does best. Nick Chubb ripped off a 25-yard run. Sony Michel followed with a 20-yarder. That set up two easy throws off play-action, the second of which Michel caught on a wheel route for a 13-yard touchdown.
Just like that, all tied.
For all of 91 seconds anyway.
That’s how long Oklahoma needed to go 75 yards for its second touchdown. Rodney Anderson did the damage, racing 45 yards to move to Georgia’s 18, then finishing with back-to-back 9-yard runs, the second of which gave the Sooners a 14-7 lead.
Ten of OU’s’ 15 plays in the first quarter went for 8 yards or more. They faced exactly one third down in the opening frame — which Mayfield wiped out on a 10-yard slant to CeeDee Lamb.
The race to Atlanta was well under way in Pasadena.
Anderson’s second touchdown, a 41-yard burst over the left side, stretched the advantage to 21-7 just seconds into the second quarter. That run pushed Anderson over 100 for the game and added to the statistical disparity that was every bit as accurate as the sheet said: OU had 209 total yards on 17 plays.
Before Mayfield and Co. could stop smiling on the sideline, Georgia responded. On the Dawgs’ first play, Michel took a simple handoff up the gut and turned it into a 75-yard touchdown. At 21-14, Georgia was back in business.
Anderson was banged up on Oklahoma’s next drive, and the difference was noticeable. The Sooners still scored, but just a field goal, once again extending their lead to double digits.
They closed the half with some creative play-calling from Lincoln Riley, who rose to Oklahoma’s head coach because of such ability.
On 3rd-and-goal from the 2, Oklahoma ran a reverse with an option to pass. Lamb’s first option was to run, but Georgia closed quickly, so he pulled up and threw to Mayfield, who was all alone in the end zone for an easy pitch-and-catch touchdown.
Now Baker Mayfield is out here catching TDs too pic.twitter.com/S3esgz4L9s
— 2018 NFL Draft (@DraftRT) January 1, 2018
Georgia answered, again. This time, they took advantage of a botched kickoff to quickly move into field goal position. Rodrigo Blankenship, who missed earlier, drilled a 55-yarder on the final play of the second quarter to give the Bulldogs momentum heading into halftime.
That sequence proved critical.
After Georgia opened the second half by forcing a 3-and-out, the Dawgs went back to work.
They also went back to Chubb. On the first play, the senior broke several tackles and sprinted for a 50-yard touchdown, trimming the deficit to 31-24. For all of the talk about Oklahoma’s big-play capability, that was Georgia’s second long touchdown on its first play of a drive.
Georgia forced another punt — its third of the third quarter — and scored on yet another big play. This time it was Michel, taking a handoff on 3rd-and-6, racing through the heart of the Sooners’ offense 38 yards for a touchdown.
Georgia, once down 31-14 with 10 seconds left in the first half, tied it with their most impressive quarter of the season.
While Georgia’s offense erased the margin, the Dawgs’ defense made sure it didn’t expand. They shut out OU in the third quarter, sacking Mayfield more times (3) than he had completions (2).
Then Dominick Sanders intercepted his first pass of the fourth quarter, nearly returning it for a touchdown before being pushed out at at the 4.
No matter, two plays later, Fromm hit Wims on a crossing route, capping a 24-0 run and giving Georgia its first lead 38-31.
Mayfield, who had guided the Sooners to four second-half comeback wins this season, quickly put OU in position to do it again.
His second touchdown pass capped an 88-yard drive and tied the score at 38. It was the 27th consecutive game in which Mayfield threw at least two touchdown passes.
Oklahoma’s defense, gashed all afternoon, ultimately made the biggest play. It stripped Michel as he was trying to get outside, forcing a fumble. Steven Parker scooped the ball, tiptoed along the sideline to stay in bounds and ran 46 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Down 7, Georgia went 3-and-out on its first attempt to mount a tying drive, but after forcing a punt, gave itself one more chance.
And once again, Michel and Chubb delivered. Chubb scored the game-tying touchdown out of the Wild Dawg formation with 55 seconds left to force overtime.
Chubb and Michel combined for 295 yards rushing and four touchdowns in regulation alone.
Michel won it in double overtime. Their storybook career will end as they wanted — back home in Georgia, playing for the national championship.