Destiny may be on Georgia’s side.
The third-ranked Bulldogs might be only five days away from ending their 37-year national championship drought.
It would be hard to look at the conglomerate of great plays and pulse-pounding excitement from the 54-48, double-overtime win over No. 2 Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl without coming to the conclusion this is the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the Bulldogs’ football history.
It can hit a high mark with a win by Georgia (13-1) in its first national-title game appearance since the 1983 Sugar Bowl.
All that stands between Georgia and a national championship is the most revered program in college football — Alabama. The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (12-1) are in the championship game for the third straight season is looking to grab its fifth national championship since 2009.
However, it’s the 2017 Bulldogs team that appears destined to earn the crown jewel of college football after a Rose Bowl that is already regarded as one of the greatest college football games ever. So many times Georgia was able to make the right call and rip off the big play in the highest-scoring Rose Bowl, beating last year’s game by 1 point.
Nobody could predict the Bulldogs’ season could result in a trip to the national championship game after losing heralded sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason for three games after a minor a knee injury in the season opener, opening the door for true freshman Jake Fromm to permanently earn the starting job.
Fromm can become the first true freshman quarterback to lead his program to a national championship since Jamelle Holieway carried Oklahoma to the 1985 title, and popular sentiment in the day after Georgia’s win was that it wouldn’t make it this far only to be denied the championship.
The memory that was etched into everyone’s mind was when Georgia’s Sony Michel bolted through the line, and with a key block on the edge from Fromm, scored from 27 yards out to wrap up a victory in southern California.
However, it was a collection of momentum-swinging plays by the Bulldogs that helped erase a 17-point first-half hole against the Sooners and Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield in the playoff semifinal game. Two of Michel’s four touchdowns brought the score back to a tie in regulation as Georgia teetered dangerously close early to digging too big of a hole against the quick-strike Sooners’ offense.
It can’t be stressed enough the resolve it took for the Bulldogs’ defense to make halftime adjustments, resulting in Oklahoma converting on just 1 of 10 second-half third-down attempts, a stark contrast to when the Sooners made 6 of 8 third-down tries in the first two quarters.
Chipping away at that massive deficit began for Georgia with Tae Crowder’s obscured recovery on a squib kick with just seconds remaining in the first half, setting up the Bulldogs with the ball at the Oklahoma 47-yard line. Letting the ball go farther would have pushed the Bulldogs out of field-goal range with only 6 seconds left before intermission.
Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart didn’t hesitate in sending out sure-footed kicker Rodrigo Blankenship for his 55-yard field goal — a new Rose Bowl record — to wrap up the first half.
Even though all the momentum rested with Oklahoma at the half, opportunistic plays by Georgia made it a punch/counterpunch battle between two gladiators down the stretch.
With minutes dwindling late in the game, a pattern was set into motion: The Bulldogs made a big play, then the Sooners found a way to answer.
Trailing by 14 at the half, it was a regular rotation of different Georgia players stepping up with adrenaline-inducing plays that made it a constant back-and-forth battle after the Bulldogs tied the game on Michel’s 38-yard run in the final minute of the third quarter.
After that there was more of Michel with his redemptive game-winning run, after a gritty touchdown run by Nick Chubb from the 2-yard line in the final minute to result in a 45-all tie at the end of regulation.
The Bulldogs’ defense played an equal part in victory after looking out of sync and overmatched in the first half.
Georgia senior linebacker Lorenzo Carter produced a blocked field goal on Oklahoma’s short attempt to open the second overtime period. The Bulldogs’ outside linebacker had the timing perfect on his leap and was able to scratch the football with his outstretched hand to halt all the momentum out of the Sooners’ field-goal try.
Bulldogs junior Roquan Smith continued to solidify his high-round draft status with a team-high 11 tackles and delivered a jarring stop to deny the Sooners on a third-and-2 run in the first overtime.
On top of those, others played a major role in Georgia’s victory, including Dominick Sanders, who picked off a Mayfield pass in Oklahoma territory, resulting in a short field and Javon Wims’ touchdown catch from Fromm early in the fourth quarter.
During its rally, Georgia also benefitted greatly from a no-call by the officials when defensive tackle Julian Rochester went to his knees after the play ended on top of Mayfield, who was already on the ground, without drawing a flag.
That’s one of the breaks a team gets when the stars are aligning in its favor.
It’s not just the talent already on campus that has Georgia’s program trending in the right direction. The Bulldogs also recently started the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class for 2018, highlighted by the top players at running back (Zamir White), dual-threat quarterback (Justin Fields) and offensive guard (Jamaree Salyer) signing their letters of intent.
With a bevy of instrumental players in the championship-game run graduating or expected to enter the NFL draft after being juniors this season, it takes that replenishment of talent to put the Bulldogs right up there with Alabama and Clemson among the nation’s most well-stocked programs.
Now the Bulldogs need just one more win to claim that long-elusive championship.
If it’s anything as exciting as the Rose Bowl, Georgia fans are in for a treat.
Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Bill_Murphy379 on Twitter.