Georgia got into a shootout with Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma and won, looking every bit like a national championship-caliber team.
In a game that progressed from potential Oklahoma blowout to game of the year to all-time classic Rose Bowl to all-time classic college football game, period, No. 3 Georgia defeated the No. 2 Sooners 54-48 in Pasadena on Monday to earn a trip to the national championship game. It's a final score that appears out of Georgia's comfort zone, and yet the Bulldogs survived a first-half Oklahoma onslaught, made big plays of their own and outlasted the Sooners in a double-overtime classic on the sport's grandest stage in The Granddaddy of Them All.
The Bulldogs erased a 17-point first-half deficit, storming back behind the running of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and a second-half defensive turnaround led by All-America linebacker Roquan Smith. They took a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, lost it in a matter of minutes, came back to tie and then pulled off a remarkable victory on a 27-yard touchdown run by Sony Michel after Lorenzo Carter blocked a Sooners field goal.
"Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown!"- ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) January 2, 2018
UGA's walk-off TD, as heard on the Georgia Bulldogs Sports Network. pic.twitter.com/ECtcb02Vfw
A year after USC and Penn State set a Rose Bowl record with 101 combined points, Georgia and Oklahoma topped them with 102 points in the first Rose Bowl to go to overtime. It's a result that instantly moves up the list of the best Rose Bowls ever, against steep competition, and it's a game that was by far the best of the semifinals played in the playoff era thus far.
Georgia's defense was one of the nation's best all season, but early on it appeared to be no match for the nation's undisputed best offense and the Heisman Trophy winner. The Sooners' first three possessions produced touchdown drives of 80, 75 and 69 yards. Despite dealing with an illness in the days leading up to the game, Mayfield was as sharp as ever, carving up the Bulldogs while also getting help from tailback Rodney Anderson, who had touchdown runs of nine an 41 yards.
The Bulldogs attempted to keep pace by running all over the Sooners, with Michel scoring on runs of 13 and 75 yards in the first half. But when Oklahoma wideout CeeDee Lamb tossed a two-yard touchdown pass to Mayfield on a trick play late in the second quarter to put the Sooners ahead 31-14, the game appeared to be in danger of becoming an OU rout.
We thought that looked familiar, Baker ... pic.twitter.com/uvzqcleOu0- ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) January 2, 2018
Oddly, the game began to change on a seemingly a routine kickoff just before halftime. Oklahoma squibbed short, and Georgia got possession at the Sooners' 47-yard line. Jake Fromm hit Terry Godwin for nine yards, and Rodrigo Blankenship proceeded to drill a 55-yard field goal, giving the Bulldogs three unexpected points to cut the lead to 14 on the final play of the first half.
Georgia then played perhaps the finest defensive quarter of the season coming out of the locker room. Oklahoma's first five possessions of the second half totaled 37 yards with four punts and an interception. The offense took advantage, as Georgia got a 50-yard touchdown run from Chubb in which he threw off two defenders and a 38-yard touchdown run from Michel. Chubb finished with 14 carries for 145 yards and two TDs. Michel finished with 11 carries for 181 yards and three TDs. Together, they averaged 13 yards per carry, outshining Mayfield as the offensive stars of the game. They carried Georgia back into the game, and with the score tied at 38, Dominick Sanders intercepted a poor Mayfield throw, setting up a four-yard go-ahead TD pass from Fromm to Javon Wims.
Nick Chubb vs the entire Oklahoma defense ….. no problem pic.twitter.com/NoyutYtgsG- SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 2, 2018
Oklahoma went three-and-out next, but it, of course, was not finished. The Sooners finally woke up with an 88-yard touchdown drive in which Mayfield connected with Dimitri Flowers on a Johnny Manziel-esque 11-yard pass. Less than two minutes later, Michel fumbled, and Steven Parker recovered it, tight-roped the sideline and returned it 46 yards for a go-ahead Oklahoma touchdown.
You're gonna want to get to ESPN or the ESPN App now.- College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) January 2, 2018
Not later. Now. pic.twitter.com/LRUdOooEQv
In the clutch, though, Fromm responded. The true freshman directed Georgia on a seven-play, 59-yard drive capped by a two-yard wildcat touchdown run by Chubb with 55 seconds left, ultimately forcing overtime. The teams traded field goals before the sequence in the second OT in which Carter blocked the kick and Michel won the game.
It seems bizarre to say after it allowed 48 points, but Georgia's defense stole the show. The Sooners scored only one offensive touchdown in the second half, and after a Heisman-worthy first half, Mayfield struggled to get on the same page as receivers who struggled to get separation. Meanwhile, Lincoln Riley's play-calling that could seemingly do no wrong early hit some rough patches, particularly with repeatedly unsuccessful outside runs in which Oklahoma was no match for Smith and the Bulldogs' sideline-to-sideline defensive speed. The Bulldogs gave up 287 passing yards to Mayfield and 201 rushing yards to Anderson, but they adjusted in the second half and allowed their offense to push the comeback over the top.
Georgia's 17-point comeback win is the largest in Rose Bowl history!- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 2, 2018
Like in the rest of Georgia's best performances, key plays from the defense and a dominant running attack put Fromm in position to succeed, and the poised freshman stepped up, completing 20 of 29 for 210 yards with two touchdowns and, crucially, no turnovers. He'll go to Atlanta next Monday with a chance to become the first true freshman quarterback to lead a team to a national title since 1985.
It continues a breakthrough Year 2 season under Kirby Smart, the ex-Alabama assistant who went 8-5 in his first season as head coach but has had a brilliant past year, both on the recruiting trail and on the field. Smart has built a well-rounded team that showed it can adapt to win an uncharacteristic game against the nation's best quarterback, making the adjustments needed to win and earn a chance to play for its first national championship since 1980.
Georgia still has more to accomplish, but regardless of what happens next week in Atlanta, the 2017 Bulldogs will always be known as the team that beat an all-time great college quarterback in an all-time great postseason game.