Story behind kick ‘that changed the game’ for Georgia

Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship makes a 55-yard field goal at the end of the first half against the Oklahoma Sooners in the Rose Bowl Game Jan. 1, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif.

Credit: Sean M. Haffey

Credit: Sean M. Haffey

Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship makes a 55-yard field goal at the end of the first half against the Oklahoma Sooners in the Rose Bowl Game Jan. 1, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif.

There were so many elements involved in the play and its aftermath, one that will go down in Georgia football lore:

The unlikely hero, a career backup, who drew on his baseball past.

The kicker, called upon in the biggest game of his life to make the longest kick of his career, and did.

And the pass play that was set it up, which was called without the offensive coordinator, who was in an elevator and didn’t even know it was happening.

“Unbelievable. Unbelievable play,” Georgia assistant coach Shane Beamer said afterwards, shaking his head and smiling.

Georgia went to double overtime to beat Oklahoma in an instant classic 54-48, but there’s a chance it doesn’t get that far, and Georgia isn’t going to the national championship, were it not for that crazy series of events in the final seconds of the first half.

Oklahoma had just taken a 31-14 lead on a touchdown with 6 seconds left. The Sooners then lined up for a kickoff, all seemingly a formality before halftime.

Tae Crowder, a backup inside linebacker for Georgia, was on the front line of the kickoff coverage unit. Oklahoma’s kick went right at him, an attempted squib kick. Crowder hopped on it.

“It was just like shortstop,” Crowder said, smiling. “I played a little shortstop in baseball.”

He also immediately hit the ground at the Oklahoma 47.

“Just got down,” Crowder said. “Just something you should do.”

Only one second went off the clock. It was a heady and athletic play by Crowder to field the ball cleanly and immediately hit the ground.

“I’d love to say that we coached that, I’d love to say that we work that all the time,” Beamer said, grinning. “That’s just really Tae Crowder, who’s a really good football player making a really, really good football play. Changed the game.”

So it was an unexpected boon for the offense. There was only one problem: Jim Chaney, Georgia’s offensive coordinator, was already en route from the press box to the locker room. The staff had figured there would be no more offensive plays. So coach Kirby Smart, receivers coach James Coley and other assistants had to quickly huddle and make a play call.

“I’m coming down with five or seconds left, and I didn’t have any idea,” Chaney said. “James said – well our staff, hell we’ve got a great staff, so it doesn’t shock me that our staff got that one right. And James did a good job, or whoever called it. A little speedy stash. And the rest is history.”

Receiver Terry Godwin went on an out pattern to the sideline. Quarterback Jake Fromm hit him with a quick pass that gained 9 yards, and the clock stopped with one second left.

That set up Rodrigo Blankenship, who had missed a 48-yarder earlier in the game. This one was longer, 55 yards, a length Blankenship had never hit at the college level in a game, and that nobody had hit in Rose Bowl history.

“It was a little bit out of range from what we talked about his range before the game,” Beamer said. “But a big-time kick by him.”

It was through, and instead of Georgia trailing by 17 at halftime, it was down 2 touchdowns, with a bit of momentum.

“Without field goal it wouldn’t have been tied like it was (in regulation),” receiver Mecole Hardman said. “But Rodrigo came through in the clutch, we needed that, momentum had stopped, and we went from there.”

The Sports & Social at Battery Avenue was absolutely insane as Georgia fans celebrate UGA's huge comeback win in double overtime at the Rose Bowl, sending the Dawgs to the College Football National Championship in Atlanta January 8. Video by Ryon Horne