Said Smart: “Our guys are extremely resilient.”
Ohio State will complain forever about a Georgia fourth-down failure that, after replay review, became a vital conversion. Them’s the breaks. It’s a game of inches and all that. All the inches, and the flawed swing of Ruggles’ foot, fell the Bulldogs’ way. That can happen with a serial winner. Ask UGA fans about the officiating in the January 2018 loss to Alabama.
The heartbreak of that night in this same Mercedes-Benz Stadium seems to belong to another century. Coming off a 14-1 season, the Bulldogs are poised to go 15-0. They’ve beaten Michigan. They’ve beaten Alabama. They’ve beaten Ohio State. Anyone else want to try?
TCU, an upset winner over Michigan, will give it a go. Georgia, however, isn’t Michigan. Georgia is now a cut above the rest. It gained 533 yards against the Buckeyes. On the Bulldogs’ final two possessions (not counting a kneel-down), Ohio State didn’t come close to stopping the team that never wears down, the team that only wears others down.
It took Georgia one play – a 76-yard pass from Stetson Bennett to an unguarded Arian Smith, whose defender had fallen – to score the touchdown that gave it a chance. It took five more Bennett completions, in five tries, for him to find Adonai Mitchell in the end zone for the tying touchdown at 0:54. Jack Podlesny’s PAT put Georgia ahead forever.
Working without receiver Marvin Harrison, who’d been dazed on an end-zone hit that the Pac-12 officiating deemed targeting before replay disagreed, Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud ran 27 yards to the Georgia 30 with 24 seconds left. The Buckeyes were close enough to try a field goal, but the next three plays – a rush that lost a yard, then two completions – pushed them back. Ruggles was left with a 50-yard try. His kick mightn’t have been good from 30.
For Georgia, Bennett looking toward Mitchell keeps on keeping on. That pairing put UGA ahead against Alabama in the final moments of last January’s final. This time it sent the Bulldogs back for an encore performance. Say what you might – by now, we’ve said everything – about Bennett, but he is the beating heart of Georgia. His will could move mountains.
Said Bennett: “The more you do it, the more comfortable you are.”
For a team that has known few anxious moments over the past 51 weeks, Georgia ran across one early on New Year’s Eve. Not five minutes into the second quarter, the Bulldogs faced their biggest deficit of the season – 14 points in arrears, their 25-year-old quarterback having made one grievous error, soon to make another.
With open terrain in front of him, a scrambling Bennett instead drifted past the line of scrimmage and delivered a pass, which is against the rules. The penalty carried a loss of down, leaving Georgia with second-and-14 on a possession following a Bennett interception. The Bulldogs weren’t in trouble just yet – 40 minutes remained – but they needed something from this drive.
They got a touchdown. Forever undaunted, Bennett threw deep for Smith on second-and-14. The 47-yard gain led, one snap later, to a Kendall Milton touchdown. Georgia then forced an Ohio State three-and-out. Three plays later, Bennett rolled left to score. The Bulldogs overrode a 14-point lead in four minutes, 49 seconds. They would lead before the half was done.
Then they’d fall back behind. Stroud was great – 348 yards passing, four touchdowns – but the Buckeyes could never draw more than two scores ahead. The Bulldogs didn’t score in the third quarter, but they stayed close enough for Bennett to win it, which he did. He threw for 398 yards and three touchdowns. Do not bet against Stetson Fleming Bennett IV.
You can bet against the Bulldogs if you like – they were only five-point favorites by kickoff Saturday – but do not bet on them to lose outright. Because they won’t. Because they don’t. They just win, baby. They just win.