While the clock struck midnight to ring in the new year, millions of UGA fans felt restless anticipation become elation as an Ohio State field goal swerved wide left, time expired and the Bulldogs punched their ticket to the National Championship game.
As Atlanta-area reporter Brendan Keefe so aptly posted on Twitter after the game, that final moment — and the preceding comeback by UGA — was “a script even Hollywood could not have written.”(Story continues below)
What’s at stake
Head coach Kirby Smart now has the opportunity to help the program achieve something done only a few times in college football history.
With a win Monday night against TCU, the Bulldogs would join the likes of Nebraska, Southern California and Alabama as teams that have repeated as national champions in recent decades.
The only other team to achieve that in the last half-century was Oklahoma in 1974 and 1975.
A national championship win would also further cement the legacy of quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, who has consistently achieved more than many pundits would like to give him credit for.
Despite his success after taking over for JT Daniels in 2021, the intellectuals of the sporting world labeled him as not quite good enough after the loss to Alabama in that year’s SEC Championship game.
Since that moment, he has been the leader of the nation’s best team and the writer of his own script.
How they got there
The College Football Playoff semifinal bout between UGA and OSU in many ways encapsulated the path the Bulldogs took during the regular season to earn another chance to win it all.
While the Dawgs had their fair share of blowout wins during the regular season, the team’s mindset and careful decision-making of the coaching staff made all the difference in the closer games.
After all, it was never supposed to be easy.
Down 38-27 to the Buckeyes midway through the fourth quarter, the UGA defense faced a fake punt attempt that looked to have been successful — if not for Smart calling a timeout.
That stoppage led to an actual punt, giving the Bulldogs precious possession in a game where both offensive units were performing at their very best.
Almost immediately upon taking over the ball, UGA scored a touchdown and made a two-point conversion to cut the deficit to three points.
After an OSU field goal, Bennett led one more charge down the field for the Bulldogs, finding A.D. Mitchell for another touchdown with just under a minute remaining in the game.
One all-important extra point later, UGA led by a single point. While the tremendous efforts of Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud got his team as far as the 32-yard line of the Bulldogs, the final field goal attempt was never on track.
The way in which UGA survived the playoff semifinal game was established earlier in the season when the team won despite difficult circumstances.
Following a rout of Oregon to open the season, the Bulldogs had close games against Kent State and Missouri, testing the team’s resolve.
But after surviving those two games, UGA found their top gear once more, reminding the nation of their prowess with dominating performances against Florida and Tennessee.
From that point, the only other game the team needed to survive was against Kentucky, when both teams faced adverse weather conditions.
While the obvious goal of the Bulldogs will be to win the national title, it is also important to reflect on the magnitude of what Smart, his staff and the entire program has accomplished in the past seven seasons.
With three CFP appearances and now three national championship game appearances, Georgia has now created a standard of excellence that has the ability to withstand the wild world of the transfer portal.
But while it may be tempting to now expect the same level of play from the Dawgs every season with their ‘next man up’ mentality, it is also important to enjoy all of the amazing individual stories that come from the program.
And especially for Stetson, what a ride it has been.