Georgia rallies then needs Ohio State missed field goal to win Peach Bowl and reach title game


ATLANTA — The champs are still alive.

Facing their largest second-half deficit of the season against an Ohio State team that found and exploited all their weaknesses, the Georgia Bulldogs mounted a furious fourth-quarter rally to win the Peach Bowl, 42-41, and advance to the College Football Playoff championship game for the third time in school history. After waiting 40 years between national titles, Georgia will face TCU on Jan. 9 trying to become the first program to go back-to-back since Alabama in 2011 and 2012.

And the play that helped launch them there might have been — of all things — a timeout.

Trailing by 11 points in the fourth quarter and expecting to get the ball back, Georgia coach Kirby Smart sniffed out a fake punt and got a timeout called just before Ohio State snapped the ball on what would have been a first down for the Buckeyes.

Instead, Georgia got the ball back and scored on the very next play, a 75-yard pass from senior quarterback Stetson Bennett to a wide open Arian Smith. After holding Ohio State to a 48-yard field goal with 2:43 remaining, Georgia got the ball back needing just a touchdown to win.

And Bennett, who struggled for much of the third quarter, delivered. Driving the Bulldogs 72 yards in five plays, Bennett found Adonai Mitchell in the left corner of the end zone with 54 seconds remaining. The only question was whether Georgia actually left Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud too much time.

Stroud drove the Buckeyes into scoring position, but kicker Noah Ruggles badly shanked a 50-yard field goal well left of the uprights with three seconds left, allowing Georgia to escape.

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Here are three observations from the Bulldogs’ win:

Stetson Bennett struggled until it mattered most

The Bulldogs’ senior quarterback has been in a lot of big games and played well in them, including last year when they beat Alabama for the national championship. But for a large portion of this game, Bennett looked inexperienced, jittery and indecisive in the big moments.

In the third quarter, Bennett completed just 1-of-3 passes while Georgia had just 33 total yards and seemed completely out of its play-calling rhythm. Had the Bulldogs lost this game, Bennett would have shouldered a lot of the blame, including an interception he threw in the first half that set up the Buckeyes for a short field that they converted into a touchdown for a 21-7 lead.

Georgia running back Kendall Milton (2) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first half against Ohio State during the 2022 Peach Bowl.

Georgia running back Kendall Milton (2) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first half against Ohio State during the 2022 Peach Bowl.

But Bennett, the former walk-on, came alive in the clutch. Trailing 38-24, Bennett completed 10-of-12 passes in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns to add another chapter to his legendary career. With Georgia struggling to run the ball in the second half — they had just 12 yards on the ground — the Bulldogs’ only chance was for Bennett to step up. He did.

The aggressive Buckeyes showed up – and executed

For whatever reason, an Ohio State offense that is supposed to be all gas, no brakes turtled up in the Michigan game. That included coach Ryan Day, who made some shockingly conservative decisions in the second half as things were slipping away.

But given a second chance to extend their season, the Buckeyes were determined to let it all hang out in the semifinals. Knowing that their only chance in this matchup was to take advantage of a shaky Georgia pass defense, Ohio State did not worry too much about establishing the run and instead leaned on Stroud to challenge the secondary at every opportunity.

The question was whether the Buckeyes’ offensive line could protect him well enough for an entire game to make it work.

It did. Georgia only got Stroud on the ground four times, with havoc-wreaking defensive tackle Jalen Carter oddly a non-factor for most of the game.

When Stroud had time to throw and a clean pocket, it was pretty much target practice with open receivers all over the field. The best of them, Marvin Harrison, Jr., seemingly could not be covered by Georgia’s defensive backs and finished with 106 yards on five catches.  Harrison did not return to the game after taking a vicious hit  from Javon Bullard in the back of the end zone near the end of the third quarter, which might have been a factor in the fourth quarter.

Stroud finished 23-of-34 for 348 yards and four touchdowns, playing his best game when it mattered most. It just wasn’t quite enough for Ohio State to win.

Ohio State players are dejected on the sideline after the team's loss to Georgia in the 2022 Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Ohio State players are dejected on the sideline after the team’s loss to Georgia in the 2022 Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Georgia nearly lost because of the “Middle Eight”

Coaches and analytics gurus increasingly point to the four minutes before halftime and the four minutes after halftime — the so-called “Middle Eight” — as a crucial stretch where a lot of games are won and lost.

And that’s where the Buckeyes nearly stole the game

After getting a key stop to hold Georgia to a 32-yard field goal with 1:44 left in the half, Ohio State motored down the field in 55 seconds, completing the drive with a 37-yard pass from Stroud to Xavier Johnson to take a 28-24 lead into intermission.

Ohio State then came out in the second half and forced a quick three-and-out on defense, then went 70 yards in six plays to take command of the game. That put Georgia, which had only had to come from behind once earlier this season against Missouri, into a position with which it was clearly unfamiliar and uncomfortable. From that point on, Georgia seemed to be hanging in the game by a fingernail, with every Ohio State possession having the potential to break things open.

But Georgia’s defense got organized just in time, holding Ohio State’s offense to three field-goal attempts and two punts on its final five possessions.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Georgia survives Ohio State in Peach Bowl to reach national title game



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