The first of two College Football Playoff semifinals could be boiled down to one question: Could No. 3 Georgia’s defense shut down No. 2 Oklahoma’s offense? The answer: No, but it didn’t matter in the end. The Bulldogs recorded 502 total yards, including 326 on 25 carries combined with five touchdowns from senior running back tandem Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, to edge the Sooners, 54-48, in double overtime in the Rose Bowl to advance to the national championship game.
Kirby Smart’s team will have homefield advantage in a Jan. 8 matchup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta with Alabama, which beat No. 1 Clemson 24-6 in Monday's Sugar Bowl.
Oklahoma built a 31-14 lead in the first half, only to allow Georgia to score 24 consecutive points and pull ahead early in the fourth quarter. The Sooners tied it and then took a seven-point lead, but a late Bulldogs rushing touchdown sent the game to overtime for the first time in Rose Bowl history. A pivotal special teams play clinched it for Georgia: Linebacker Lorenzo Carter leapt to get his right hand on Oklahoma kicker Austin Seibert’s 27-yard try in the second extra session, and Michel ensured the Sooners wouldn’t have an opportunity to make amends for the gaffe, darting 27 yards to pay dirt for the win.
The Rose Bowl thriller doubled as a showcase for Michel and Chubb, who offered the college football world a timely reminder that they have a credible case as the top running back tandem in the country. The duo tormented Oklahoma’s leaky defense for much of the afternoon, and true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm complemented Michel and Chubb by completing 20 of his 29 passing attempts for 210 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Even with Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, one of the best college quarterbacks of this century, throwing darts from the pocket, the combination of the Bulldogs’ balanced attack and timely plays from Carter and Butkus Award-winning linebacker Roquan Smith was too much for the Sooners to overcome.
Early on Oklahoma looked like it was in the initial stages of a routine beatdown of a typical Big 12 defense, not Georgia’s elite unit, which entered Monday ranked sixth in the nation in yards allowed per play and third in the nation in points allowed per game. The Sooners opened by ripping off two six-play touchdown drives, then followed up with a five-play TD series and a field goal to record 24 points by early in the second quarter. Oklahoma punted only one time before the half.
This was precisely the sort of start the Bulldogs hoped to avoid, but they countered with a pair of touchdowns from the speedy Michel—one a 75-yard rush, the other a 13-yard pass—to keep the pressure on Oklahoma to put up more points. The Sooners rose to the occasion with flair. On third and goal from the Georgia two-yard line, Oklahoma ran a double reverse that ended with wideout CeeDee Lamb hitting Mayfield, uncovered on the right side of the end zone, for a two-yard touchdown.
The former walk-on went into the break having completed 13 of 18 passing attempts for 200 yards, but he wasn’t the Bulldogs’ biggest problem over the first two quarters. Sophomore Rodney Anderson churned out 125 yards on 13 carries with two scores to power Oklahoma to a 360-291 total yards advantage at halftime. The Sooners hadn’t just pierced Georgia’s well-fortified defensive wall. They’d blown a hole through it so wide that it didn’t feel like the Bulldogs would be able to patch it up.
The folly of that line of thinking became clear early in the second half, when Georgia forced Oklahoma into a pair of three and outs and five consecutive scoreless drives. Meanwhile, after the Bulldogs took advantage of a short kick at the end of the second quarter with a Rose Bowl-record and career-long 55-yard field goal from redshirt sophomore place kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, Michel and first-team All-SEC member Chubb gashed the Sooners’ spotty rushing coverage for a pair of monster gains.
Chubb struck first, and in dazzling fashion. On first and 10 at midfield, the 5’10,’’ 225-pound senior shed multiple Oklahoma tacklers near the line of scrimmage before scampering 50 yards to the end zone. After Georgia punted on its next drive, Michel delivered his third touchdown of the afternoon following what looked like a savvy pre-snap play alteration from Fromm, jetting 38 yards through the Sooners’ defensive backfield for his third of four touchdowns of the game to tie the score at 31.
The two long scores raised the Bulldogs rushing total to 281 yards on a staggering 15.6 yards per carry. Mayfield’s attempt to put Oklahoma back on top through the air backfired. On third down from the Sooners’ 18-yard line, the record-breaking signal-caller overthrew veteran tight end Mark Andrews, and Georgia defensive back Dominick Sanders snatched the ball before running it back inside the five-yard line. Two plays later, the Bulldogs scored again by way of a four-yard catch from wideout Javon Wims.
It didn’t take Mayfield long to atone for the error. With about nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and Georgia riding the momentum of a remarkable comeback, Mayfield faked a handoff, bought time in the pocket while fullback Dimitri Flowers tried to create separation from his defender and fired an 11-yard dart to him in the back of the end zone to make it 38-38. Just when it looked like Mayfield might have cost Oklahoma the game, he’d come up big in his own “flu game.”
But it was Oklahoma’s defense that put the Sooners in front late. Sophomore linebacker Caleb Kelly crunched Michel behind the line of scrimmage, and he coughed the ball up. Oklahoma senior defensive back Steven Parker II picked it up, managed to stay in bounds near the right sideline, evaded a would-be tackler in the open field and dashed 46 yards into the end zone to give the Sooners a 45-38 edge in a tilt rapidly approaching epic status.
Fromm proceeded to guide Georgia on a seven-play touchdown drive, punctuated by a two yard touchdown run from Chubb. It was up for Oklahoma to hold serve, but it went only 20 yards in four plays and punted, leaving a 45-45 score at the end of regulation. In the first period, the two teams traded field goals to conclude four-play sequences, but Carter rose to block the Sooners’ attempt on their next series, and Michel provided the winning points moments later.