In 103 Rose Bowls before Monday, only two teams had rallied to win after being down double digits at halftime. Georgia, with a freshman quarterback trading passes with a Heisman Trophy-winning fifth-year senior, didn’t seem built to become the third.
So much for history and reputations.
In the first overtime game in Rose Bowl history, No. 3 Georgia advanced to Monday’s national championship game against No. 4 Alabama in Atlanta by rallying for a 54-48 victory over No. 2 Oklahoma in front of 92,844.
On the final play — a run off, if you will — back Sony Michel took a direct snap, headed to his left, broke a tackle near the line of scrimmage and sprinted 27 yards for a touchdown that gave Georgia the double-overtime win and pushed the Bulldogs into their first national title game.
“Our kids are so resilient. … They kept fighting. They believed,” coach Kirby Smart said after the Bulldogs (13-1) capped the largest comeback in Rose Bowl history by wiping out a 17-point deficit.
Michel’s run, which culminated his 181-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance, came after Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter leaped high to deflect a 27-yard field-goal attempt by Austin Seibert.
A mistake by the Sooners (12-2) just before halftime proved costly to the Big 12 Conference champions.
The Sooners led 31-14, scoring on a trick play in which quarterback Baker Mayfield caught a two-yard touchdown pass from receiver CeeDee Lamb with six seconds on the clock.
Oklahoma’s plan was to drive a squib kick to the center of the field, thwarting any kind of run back and letting the clock run out. However, they didn’t execute the play and Georgia got the ball at the Oklahoma 47.
Jake Fromm needed only five seconds to pick up nine yards on a pass, and Rodrigo Blankenship connected on a career-best 55-yard field goal, a Rose Bowl game record and the longest of this bowl season.
“That probably gave them a little bit of juice,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “They were able to steal three points on us.”
That left Georgia down by two touchdowns starting the second half, but the Bulldogs got one of them back on their first play, when Nick Chubb bolted 50 yards for a touchdown.
Chubb and Michel combined for 326 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Michel got 181 yards in 11 carries; Chubb 145 yards and two touchdowns in 14 carries.
Fromm started the season as a backup, taking over when Jacob Eason suffered a knee injury in the opener. Now he’s one step away from becoming only the second true freshman to guide a national champion.
“Jake continues to grow as a player,” Smart said. “He puts us in the right play. He makes good decisions with the ball, he protects the ball. He does a lot of good things, and I’m really proud of his growth.”
Oklahoma got 201 yards and two touchdowns rushing from Rodney Anderson, and 287 yards and two touchdowns passing from Mayfield. But the Sooners, who confounded Georgia for 360 yards in the first half, were held to 29 yards in the third quarter as the Bulldogs forged a 31-31 tie.
One obvious adjustment Georgia made was to play more often with four down linemen and three linebackers instead of its usual 3-4 alignment. Smart said simply making that change wasn’t the difference.
“It wasn’t like there was a magic sprinkle dust,” Smart said. “We called the same defenses we called in the first half. We just played them better.”
Mayfield made one big mistake: he overthrew his intended receiver into the center of the field, resulting in an interception by safety Dominick Sanders, who returned the ball 39 yards to the Sooners four-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter.
From there, Fromm connected with Javon Wims and Georgia led 38-31.
Oklahoma kept sputtering until Mayfield clicked back into high gear on an 88-yard drive during which he hit Lamb for a 36-yard gain, ran for 22 yards and threaded in an 11-yard touchdown pass to Dimitri Flowers near the back of the end zone in a span of four plays.
The pass and point-after kick tied the score 38-38 and the Sooners took the lead about two minutes later when linebacker Caleb Kelly upended Michel, dislodging the ball that bounced into the hands of strong safety Steven Parker, who took it 46 yards for a touchdown.
Oklahoma held a 45-38 advantage until less than a minute remained in regulation. Chubb scored on a run from two yards, completing a seven-play, 59-yard march that was kept alive when Fromm connected with Terry Godwin for a 16-yard gain on third and 10.
Fromm completed 20 of 29 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns, and Mayfield was 23 of 35 for 287 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
In the end, Mayfield’s chance of becoming the fifth Heisman Trophy winner to win a national championship in the last 10 years was thwarted.
He was asked about being on the field after the game talking to teammates, Georgia players and fans.
“I was taking in the last moments with my teammates,” the former walk-on said, “and also trying to find Jake Fromm. You know, the true freshman that led his team to a playoff victory. You don’t typically see that. He’s an incredible player.