PASADENA — A Rose Bowl that defied description, that blurred with too many masterful plays to ponder in one brain, and that looked like it might not settle itself for days finally gasped to an end Monday on an atonement.
Sony Michel, seven game minutes and two overtimes after his unlucky fumble placed his Georgia team in a pickle, took a direct snap from the 27 line, headed left, streamed forward and resumed his rightful place as one of the Bulldogs’ monster running backs.
“I made plays. I gave up plays. My team just had faith in me,” said Michel. “That’s what this team is all about. They showed true character today.”
As he reached the end zone alone, the first overtime game in the 104-edition Rose Bowl history ended with Georgia ahead of Oklahoma by a near-preposterous 54-48.
What got this game there, however, had not been preposterous at all. Only the damnedest of curving roads led Georgia to the College Football Playoff national championship game, where it will play next Monday in its home state in Atlanta. First, Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield thrived early for Oklahoma, distributing footballs to seemingly hundreds of receivers and backs. Next, Georgia’s defense impressively, steadily and largely solved that brain-spinning puzzle.
Next after that, Oklahoma resurged. Next after that, anything could have happened.
When it all ended, Oklahoma had led 21-7, 31-14 and 31-17 at halftime. Georgia had led 38-31. Oklahoma had led 45-38. Regulation had ended 45-45, and the first overtime at 48-48. Oklahoma had 531 total yards to Georgia’s 527. Michel and teammate Nick Chubb had bitten off 181 and 145 rushing yards, respectively, on just 11 and 14 carries, somehow. Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter, with seemingly the ring finger and pinkie on his right glove, had blocked Austin Seibert’s field goal in the second overtime, setting up Michel’s closer.
“I can’t believe it’s over. It’s been a wild ride,” said Mayfield with a hoarse voice before he started to cry.
The outset in the daylight and the 71 degrees had brought a spellbinding case of a great defense, bamboozled. By the time Mayfield and Oklahoma got through three possessions, they had run 17 plays, gained 209 total yards and led 21-7. Mayfield had thrown to four different receivers.Rodney Anderson had run 45 yards one time, and 41 another time, on his way to 201 rushing yards.
Georgia, a churlish bunch that had allowed only two opponents the fun of crossing the 20-point mark, had run across someone who had 21 with 14 minutes still left in the half. There was even a play when Mayfield caught a touchdown pass, of 2 yards, from CeeDee Lamb.
Then fresh wrinkles appeared in the third quarter. Mayfield began to find ill-tempered company around him in the backfield. Jonathan Ledbetter registered one sack, then a tandem of D’Andre Walker and Tyler Clark got another. Soon, the pressure seemed palpable, and Mayfield, who threw only five interceptions all season, let one go with some air under it and landed in the arms of Dominick Sanders, whose return left Georgia with only 4 yards to cover for its 38-31 lead.
The game thus had a definition and a description, but then Mayfield led Oklahoma 88 yards, Lamb’s leaping 36-yard catch a key, Mayfield’s emphatic 22-yard run another.