PASADENA, CA-What a game! The Texas Longhorns and USC showdown for the national in 2006 is still at the top of the list for all-time Rose Bowl games played in Pasadena. But the 2018 Georgia-Oklahoma track meet has got to be near Mount Everest. It’s even harder to imagine the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual surpassing the Trojans-Penn State wrestling match from just a year ago.
“Our kids are so resilient,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart. “They never stopped chopping wood. They kept fighting. They believed.”
Coming into the game, all eyes were focused on Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. Sure, there was chatter about the three-headed monster operating in the form of Georgia’s triple threat rushing attack of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift. After all, Chubb (1,320 yards, 15 touchdowns), Michel (1,129 yards, 16 touchdowns) and Swift (603 yards) rushed for a combined 3,052 yards during the 2017 college football season.
The bulk of the buzz all week, however, centered on Mayfield and his celebrated senior season. Besides winning the Heisman Trophy, Mayfield collected the Davey O’Brien award for being the best quarterback in the country. He headlines the Associated Press All-American team with a first-squad placement. Playing on Sundays in the NFL seems to be inevitable.
Advancing and winning College Football Playoff national championship would be Mayfield’s crowning glory. Mayfield saw those aspirations scrambled into the Rose Bowl turf when Michel ran for a 27-yard touchdown in the second overtime to send Georgia into an all-SEC Conference title matchup with Alabama. Thank you. And good night.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” said Mayfield. “It’s been a wild ride.”
That three-headed monster turned out to be the Touchdown Two for Georgia. Just when Mayfield and the Sooners thought they were running away with the game, Michel and Chubb went nuts in running the football to calm things for the Bulldogs. Michel exploded for 181 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 touches for the game. Chubb also went rogue on Oklahoma, accounting for 145 yards and two scores from the 14 times he carried the ball.
“We just wanted to play our style of football. Oklahoma has a great defense,” said Michel during the postgame press conference. “They created a lot of three-and-outs for us. We just had to keep pounding. We had faith in each other, and all 11 guys on offense just kept grinding.”
It was Michel who opened the scoring for Georgia. As it turned out, he would also be the game’s closer with his walk-off touchdown run that sent the Georgia faithful into delirium.
“I mean, when the play was called, everybody just looked each other in the eyes,” Michel said. “There were 11 guys just executing the play, and everybody did their job. It was successful for us.”
The attention on Mayfield intensified even more by his no-shows because of illness at several Rose Bowl media-related events during the week. But any questions about the Heisman jinx or Mayfield’s reported illness was thrown out of the window in the first half as Oklahoma sliced through Georgia’s defense like a butter knife to take a 31-17 lead into intermission.
Mayfield answered the doubts and critics on Oklahoma’s first drive of the game, completing a 13-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Marquise Brown. But if had not been for the ferocious ground game presented by running back Rodney Anderson, Mayfield and Oklahoma would not have had the cushion it did. Anderson rushed for a game-high 203 yards and scored twice for the Sooners.
By halftime, Anderson had already rushed for 127 yards and scored on touchdown runs of 9 and 41 yards. The Georgia defense shut down that noise in the last two quarters of regulation and the two overtime periods as the Bulldogs rallied from their double-digit deficit. But it was the work that linebacker Roquan Smith and his teammates did on Mayfield that allowed Georgia to be in position to comeback.
Mayfield struggled (completing 23 of 35 passes for 287 yards), especially in the second half when the Bulldogs defense picked it up a couple of notches to put more heat on the Oklahoma star. Mayfield was sacked five times, threw an interception and was hurried into other bad throws by the Georgia defense.
“It was just the halftime adjustments, we had to come in, we knew we were going to face adversity throughout the game, and we had to make those adjustments and just come out and play with a little more passion,” Smith said.