Stroud ran for 5 yards to the 30 on first down. He hit Julian Fleming on the sideline for 12 yards on second down. Stroud ran up the middle for 27 yards to Georgia’s 31 to move his team into field-goal range with 24 seconds remaining. It seemed no matter what Georgia tried, Stroud was equal.
The play forced Georgia to call a timeout.
Georgia came out without deep safeties on the next play, resulting in Ohio State calling a run up the middle because Ohio State coach Ryan Day said he hoped they could bust a run up the middle. It was stopped for a 1-yard loss. Then came two incomplete passes, one of which was defensed by Kelee Ringo. Ohio State was forced to attempt a 50-yard field goal. It missed.
”That probably was the most fun game I’ve played in my life,” Stroud said. “And it just (expletive) that it has to come down like that.”
Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson said the defense never grew frustrated that it couldn’t stop Stroud. But it did fall back on knowing that it just needed to stop him in the fourth quarter. Job done.
“We didn’t execute for three quarters,” he said. “But we executed when it matters.”
The score was close because of Stroud, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist who passed for more than 3,300 yards this season, and two 1,000-yard receivers in Marvin Harrison and Emeka Egbuka.
The Bulldogs gave up 348 passing yards to the Buckeyes, more than their season average of 215.1 allowed per game. Stroud completed 23 of 34 passes. Egbuka and Harrison each gained more than 100 receiving yards. Harrison had two touchdowns to Egbuka’s one. This despite Stroud losing tight end Cade Stover in the first quarter to back spasms, and Harrison near the end of the third because of concussion protocols.
Ohio State frequently used long-developing plays – sometimes Stroud would roll right and then throw back across the field to his left – to give its receivers time to get open either by running routes across the field or down the field. Often, they were wide open.
“The game plan was superb,” Stroud said.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day said the Buckeyes ran 1,500 reps in its prep for the bowl. The players were confident. Stroud said it almost was like they knew what was going to happen before it happened.
“There were some calls that I absolutely wish I had back, but in the end, you know, game plans are only good as the guys who can put it on the field,” Day said.
Harrison’s first touchdown was a 31-yard reception in which he blew past Malaki Starks with 8:16 remaining in the first quarter. It gave Ohio State a 7-0 lead. His next was 16 yards and gave the Buckeyes a 21-7 lead with 10:56 remaining in the half. Stroud rolled right. Harrison had run left toward the goal posts, but turned and ran back to the right to give Stroud, who was motioning toward him to turn around, a target. Harrison was yards ahead of his defender when he made the catch.
Georgia started to clamp down on Harrison only for other Buckeyes to start to find space.
Xavier Johnson, running open down the middle of the field, added a 37-yard touchdown reception to give the Buckeyes a 28-24 lead just before the end of the half.
Egbuka followed with a 10-yard reception to give Ohio State a 35-24 lead with 10:37 remaining in the third quarter. The touchdown was a nicely designed play that featured most of Ohio State’s players going left, with Egbuka running right back across the formation. Stroud rolled to his right and found Egbuka, who was wide open.
The only concern for the Buckeyes came with 35 seconds remaining in the third quarter when Harrison left the field after suffering a hard-but-fair hit to his head and shoulders in the back of the end zone.
“I tried my hardest,” Stroud said. “I think I left my heart out (on the field), and I feel, and of course, I mean, it’s something that it’s heavy on the heart, and it’s gonna be tough.”