Georgia Survives Ohio State and Denies the Day of the CFP Underdog

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 1, 2023

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) celebrates his touchdown run with Georgia offensive lineman Broderick Jones (59) during the first half of the Peach Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game against Ohio State, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

In the nine-year history of the College Football Playoff, lopsided results have been a constant. For every exciting semifinal, the corresponding game brought a blowout score.

Never before had both games included a margin of fewer than 17 points. Not only did 2022 feature two close games, this year's semifinals were also on track for the first pair of upsets in the CFP.

First, the No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs continued a fairy-tale season in an upset of the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines. And then, the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes took a 38-24 lead into the fourth quarter on the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs. There were apparently two slippers to fit Saturday night.

But the reigning champs spoiled the party.

As the ball dropped and confetti fell to the streets in New York City, the Georgia Bulldogs kicked off an improbable—yet initially expected—celebration on the turf in Atlanta.

Georgia rattled off an 18-3 advantage in the closing frame, stealing a 42-41 victory from the upset-minded Buckeyes. In a bit of déjà vu, Stetson Bennett hit AD Mitchell for the go-ahead touchdown—just as they did in UGA's national championship win last season.

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Stetson Bennett ➡️ Adonai Mitchell<br><br>Georgia takes the lead with 54 seconds left 😱<a href="https://t.co/eWd4uWtdJR">pic.twitter.com/eWd4uWtdJR</a>

Georgia led for a grand total of one minute and 49 seconds in the Peach Bowl. Until that final quarter, Ohio State outplayed the SEC champions—and it wasn't particularly close.

OSU quarterback C.J. Stroud completed 23 of 34 passes for 348 yards against the nation's best defense, throwing four touchdowns with no turnovers. The two-time Heisman Trophy finalist also scampered for 34 yards, including a key 27-yard scramble that put the Buckeyes in position to steal a victory from the jaws of defeat.

Interestingly enough, they showcased the first offense all season to score even 10 points—ten!—and commit zero turnovers against UGA's stout defense. Ohio State provided a legitimate fight to an opponent that rarely dealt with one in 2022.

But in gut-wrenching fashion for the Buckeyes, veteran kicker Noah Ruggles pulled his 50-yard attempt wide left effectively as time expired.

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<a href="https://t.co/VjkHcPBsf0">pic.twitter.com/VjkHcPBsf0</a>

There would be no redemption arc.

Ohio State wasted a chance to dethrone rival Michigan in the Big Ten last month. About a week ago, the OSU coaching staff had a rough early signing period and whiffed on a couple of key targets. On the sport's second-largest stage Saturday night, the Bucks fell agonizingly short of stunning top-ranked UGA.

Rather than nearly eliminating the festering anger in Columbus, OSU coach Ryan Day is headed for a noisy offseason. Simultaneously, Georgia boss Kirby Smart put himself on track to become an undeniable program legend.

Between an exceptionally talented roster and a highly favorable schedule, UGA entered 2022 with high expectations. It's merely one sample size, but five of B/R's six college football writers projected the Dawgs would make the CFP. This was largely the anticipated outcome.

Nevertheless, this is uncharted territory for UGA.

The program is officially recognized with national titles in 1980 and 2021, while Georgia also claimed a crown in 1942. As you can imagine, Kirby Smart—born in 1975—did not coach either previous team. He's on the brink of becoming the Bulldogs' first-ever two-time champion coach.

Bennett, meanwhile, has a chance to etch his name into college football lore as the most iconic walk-on in history.

The sixth-year senior put together a stellar two-game run in the 2021 CFP, and he's off to a tremendous start in 2022. Bennett threw for 398 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in the victory, also tossing a 76-yard score to Arian Smith earlier in the fourth quarter.

GSN @GASportsNow

Stetson Bennett DIME to Arian Smith 🔥 <a href="https://t.co/FAYotTWpqp">pic.twitter.com/FAYotTWpqp</a>

The late-game heroics vanquished the storyline that could've been.

Five years ago, third-ranked Georgia and fourth-ranked Alabama won their semifinal games. However, both teams were actually favored in those matchups with Oklahoma and Clemson, respectively.

TCU and Ohio State would've created a unique championship showdown—and perhaps the only double-underdog clash in the four-team CFP era, given the impending 12-team format.

Yet the Dawgs refused to cooperate, punching their ticket to Los Angeles for a date with the Horned Frogs.

Georgia, without question, will be favored. TCU will have a chance to obliterate the expectation of UGA winning a second straight title. There is a world in which the underdog still hoists the championship trophy.

Ohio State had a chance to ensure that reality.

For that to not happen, it took Georgia's 14-point comeback—multiple, really. It required the Dawgs' last-minute touchdown and OSU's last-second field goal to hook left. Georgia mixed a tremendous level of skill with a necessary bit of luck to survive.

But the favorite is alive. The underdogs don't get all the glory in 2022.