Georgia came back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to advance to its second national title game in as many years with a 42-41 win over Ohio State in the Peach Bowl on Friday night.
The defending national champions were on the ropes for much of the game. Ohio State jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the first half and never trailed until the final minute of the game. Georgia spent most of the game playing catchup and it felt for a long while like the Bulldogs were never going to get it done.
But unlike Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl, Georgia was able to complete the comeback. Here are five of the biggest plays from the game that led the Bulldogs to a win in the closest College Football Playoff semifinal game ever.
Kenny McIntosh’s big run
Georgia cut Ohio State’s lead to 21-14 with 9:16 to go in the second quarter on an 11-yard TD run by Kendall Milton. After forcing a three-and-out by Ohio State, the Bulldogs got the ball back at their own 38 with a chance to tie the game.
It took just three plays for the tie and it should have only taken one. Kenny McIntosh broke through a massive hole and had a touchdown in his sights on the first play of the drive. Heck, ESPN’s Chris Fowler even said McIntosh was going to score … but the turf monster came up and tackled McIntosh before he got to the end zone.
Two plays later, Stetson Bennett rushed three yards for the tying TD.
McIntosh had just 18 yards on four other carries but his big run was part of an extremely efficient rushing attack from Georgia’s running backs. McIntosh, Milton and Daijun Edwards ran the ball just 16 times for 154 yards.
Brock Bowers’ effort
After Ohio State kicked a field goal to go up 38-24 late in the third quarter, Georgia found itself trailing by two touchdowns for the second time.
The Bulldogs went on a 12-play drive that covered 62 yards to cut the lead to 11. And while the drive only resulted in three points, it almost resulted in 0 points.
Facing fourth down at the Ohio State 13, Georgia chose to go for the first down instead of kick the field goal. Bennett found Brock Bowers toward the right sideline and Bowers dove for the first down marker as he got tackled.
The official on that sideline somehow ruled Bowers was short of the marker and that Ohio State would take over. Thankfully for Georgia, that ruling was short-lived. The play immediately went to replay review and it was clear that Bowers kept himself in bounds long enough with his left hand to get the ball ahead of the line to gain before any part of his body touched out of bounds.
Kirby Smart’s timeout
After Bowers’ play helped Georgia make the game 38-27, the Bulldogs forced Ohio State into another three and out after the Georgia defense forced C.J. Stroud out of bounds a full yard short of the marker.
Ohio State immediately ran the punt team onto the field to kick the ball back to the Bulldogs. But OSU lined up in an unbalanced formation with the long snapper shifted over to the left. Receiver Emeka Egbuka also stayed on the field near the Ohio State sideline.
Georgia’s coaching staff realized this right before the snap as Kirby Smart motioned to the official on his sideline for a timeout. As Smart called for the timeout, Ohio State ran a successful fake that got the first down.
But Smart’s timeout call came before the snap, even if the play went on as the whistle blew. Though Ohio State almost got away with the fake, it also showed Georgia what it wanted to do and the pretense of a real punt was gone for the next play. After the timeout, the Buckeyes punted away to the Bulldogs.
Arian Smith’s TD
It didn’t take long for Georgia to cut Ohio State’s lead to three after the punt. Receiver Arian Smith lined up in the slot on the first play and ran up the field with a little wiggle. Smith’s speed and the slight juke got Ohio State’s Lathan Ransom turned around and caused Ransom to fall down.
Ransom was in single coverage on Smith too. With Ransom falling to the ground, Smith was wide open and had no one around him as Bennett threw him the ball. The 76-yard TD and subsequent two-point conversion put the Bulldogs within a field goal of the Buckeyes at 38-35 with 8:41 to go and put the pressure on Ohio State to get another TD or more to put the game out of reach.
Ohio State did a good job of taking time off the clock after Smith’s TD but mustered only a field goal after keeping the ball for nearly six minutes. The FG extended the lead to six and kept the margin at just one score.
Georgia took over with 2:43 to go at its own 28 and Stetson Bennett had the drive of his career. After a short completion on the first play, Bennett hit Bowers for 15 yards to the Georgia 45. Ohio State was offside on the next play before Bennett threw one of the best passes of his career down the seam to Kearis Jackson for 35 yards.
The pass to Jackson was perfect and set up Georgia at the Ohio State 14 with 1:42 to go. With plenty of time remaining, Georgia slow-played its next two plays before Bennett found AD Mitchell for what turned out to be a game-winning 10-yard TD pass with 54 seconds to go.
The catch was Mitchell’s third of the game and his third TD in as many College Football Playoff games. Mitchell has been absent for much of the season due to injury, but he played a key role Saturday night with Ladd McConkey playing only part-time due to a knee injury.
Bennett, meanwhile, threw for three touchdowns on Saturday night and ran for another to give himself a shot at being the first quarterback to win back-to-back national titles since Alabama’s A.J. McCarron in 2011 and 2012.