Instant classic: Georgia outlasts Oklahoma in Rose Bowl for the ages

PASADENA, Calif. – As the fourth quarter of the College Football Playoff semifinal began and a tense game roared into its waning minutes, the sun set over the San Gabriel Mountains in the backdrop of the Rose Bowl as if on cue from a Hollywood director. The first matchup between traditional powerhouses No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Georgia delivered a raucous, dizzying and tense game, a four-hour manic sprint that matched the historic setting.

Georgia overcame a 17-point first-half deficit, Heisman winner Baker Mayfield dueled with fearless freshman Jake Fromm and two storied programs endured and delivered enough twists and momentum shifts for a Netflix series. After 90 points and 1,010 yards in regulation, the game ended up as the first overtime game in both Rose Bowl and College Football Playoff history.

Georgia outlasted Oklahoma, 54-48, in double overtime, finishing with a fitting re-casting of star tailback Sony Michel from fourth-quarter goat to overtime hero. Michel ran a Wildcat snap for 27 yards for the game-clinching score in double overtime, atoning for a fumble that Oklahoma returned early in the fourth quarter that looked like it could cost Georgia the game. Michel’s double-overtime heroics were set up by a blocked field goal by Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter, who ended Oklahoma’s double-overtime possession by reaching up his right hand to block Austin Seibert’s 27-yard field goal.

As confetti fell on the field, a stunned sense of appreciation and bewilderment over what took place the previous four hours overcame the historic old building. Georgia fans hugged and cried and hugged some more. Many Oklahoma fans stayed in their seats, seemingly frozen by their team squandering a 17-point lead with six seconds remaining in the second quarter.

“Our kids are so resilient,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “They never stopped chopping wood. They kept fighting. They believed. There were offensive players affecting defensive players in the locker room at halftime and they kept fighting. We didn’t play the way we were capable of [playing], but the best news is we get a chance to play again.”

Georgia tailback Sony Michel (1) celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning touchdown in the second overtime to win the Rose Bowl. (AP)

With the game imploding around him in the first half, Smart’s approach never wavered. He didn’t gamble on fourth down, he punted and believed in his defense. Even when his defense gave him no reason to believe. And after some questionable early play calling, Georgia just kept riding its star tailback tandem of Michel and Nick Chubb, who combined for 326 yards. Michel appropriately capped the game with the 27-yard rush, the fitting coda to Smart’s cool-handed strategy of allowing Georgia to overpower the Sooners.

Georgia couldn’t have completed the comeback without the cold-blooded Fromm, who finished with 20-of-29 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. There’s an argument he outdueled Mayfield, who finished with more passing yards (287) but threw a critical interception late in the third quarter and couldn’t deliver a touchdown in either of Oklahoma’s two overtime possessions.

The play call that will haunt the Sooners and be discussed on Norman barstools for decades will be a run play to receiver Jordan Smallwood on a third down in the first overtime. The horizontal run, combined with taking the ball out of Mayfield’s hands, backfired spectacularly. Georgia star linebacker Roquan Smith violently halted Smallwood’s momentum and left Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley open to second-guessing. Seibert ended up tying the game with a 33-yard field goal to force the second overtime, but the run play will linger as a giant missed opportunity.

“It was a hell of a college football game,” Riley said. “You know, being on this side of it is difficult to describe, the disappointment, the hurt that we feel, that those guys in that locker room feel right now.

“We weren’t perfect. We did a lot of really good things on both sides of the ball, but we certainly weren’t perfect.”

Smart, meanwhile, stuck with his gut as his game management looked curious in real-time but turned out to be clairvoyant in retrospect. Oklahoma’s offense evaporated in the second half, flailing on five consecutive possessions and going scoreless in the third quarter after scoring on five of its first six possessions. Credit defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s adjustments and Georgia’s ferocious pass rush for the tenor change, as Mayfield threw a soul-crushing interception and Smart’s patience and pragmatism made him look like an oracle. His process for winning this game revolved around field position and controlling the game on the ground, even when Oklahoma’s offense marched through Georgia in the first half with 360 yards and 31 points.

Predicting Oklahoma would go scoreless for 21 minutes to open the second half on Monday would have been like projecting Mayfield as the Heisman Trophy the week after he walked on at Oklahoma. But that’s exactly what happened, and Georgia kept grinding out yards and gaining confidence.

That included Fromm, who stayed poise when he got the ball with 3:22 remaining in regulation and Georgia needing a touchdown to tie the game. He completed three of four passes, drew a pass interference in the end zone and Chubb capped the drive with a 2-yard Wildcat touchdown with 55 seconds left.

That forced this game into the only place it could have ended – overtime. And after Carter’s block and Michel’s march to the end zone, it left the game where it appeared to be heading all night – firmly lodged in college football lore.

Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter (7) celebrates after blocking a field goal against Oklahoma during the second overtime of the Rose Bowl. (AP)

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