Before the madness ensued, Georgia and Oklahoma had the 104th Rose Bowl game looking like a gradient rose, with the 92,000-plus fans in attendance wearing two shades of red in the stands that surrounded the stadium’s manicured green grass. Unlike their teams’ contrasting styles, the two contingents nearly matched. It was picture perfect; a harbinger of things soon to come.
When all was said and done, the Bulldogs edged the Sooners 54-48 in double overtime to win a College Football Playoff semifinal that will go down as the game of the season, and perhaps one of the best games ever played. It had five lead changes and five ties. It had scintillating swings and big plays at every turn. Every snap felt breathtakingly important.
The game was an artistic masterpiece as much as a college football classic, and as such recapping it presents a tough task. To appreciate its greatness, let’s remember the plays, in chronological order, that defined the roller coaster that was the 2018 Rose Bowl.
Baker Mayfield’s Touchdown Catch
The first half was classic Oklahoma, with Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield piloting one lightning-quick scoring drive after another. The Sooners racked up 31 points, the second-most Georgia had allowed in a game all season, to go with 360 total yards. It felt like a typical Big 12 affair.
Oklahoma’s offense works like an electrical current, with Mayfield acting not only as its source of power, but also as its strongest shock-inducer. On Monday he was the center of attention once again, from the moment he ran routes in the same space as the Bulldogs wide receivers before the game.
This warm-up wasn’t just for show. Mayfield capped a dazzling first two quarters by reeling in a 2-yard touchdown pass on a beautifully designed trick play. The score gave the Sooners a 31-14 advantage with six seconds remaining before the break, a lead that seemed insurmountable at the time.
Rodrigo Blankenship’s 55-Yard Field Goal
Rodrigo Blankenship just set a Rose Bowl record with this 55-yard field goal! Georgia trails 31-17 at halftime. pic.twitter.com/dkZf2rN7Mk— DawgNation (@DawgNation) January 1, 2018
After the trick-play touchdown, Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert squibbed a kickoff only 12 yards, leaving enough time for Georgia to complete a quick pass and Rodrigo Blankenship to try a field goal from deep. Blankenship’s booming kick, which likely would have been good from 60 yards, made the halftime score less daunting. It was a crucial three points, and represented the longest field goal in Rose Bowl history.
The second half of this game read like an entirely different story than the first. Blankenship’s 55-yarder was the catalyst that turned the page.
Nick Chubb’s 50-Yard Touchdown Run
Georgia is averaging 19 yards a carry.— ESPN (@espn) January 2, 2018
That is not a typo. pic.twitter.com/y1Eh06M6oh
By choosing to have Blankenship attempt a 55-yard kick, the Bulldogs signaled that they were playing the long game, hoping to return to their grind-opponents-into-oblivion identity in the second half. They did. Georgia started controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in the third quarter, and the Dawgs scored 21 consecutive points as the contest shifted into a tempo of their liking. That all began with this barreling 50-yard run by Nick Chubb, who ended the game with 145 yards on 14 carries.
Chubb and fellow Bulldogs running back Sony Michel looked unstoppable during this stretch. They propelled Georgia to a 38-31 lead, and at one point their stat lines looked like this:
Jake Fromm’s Inexplicable Intentional Grounding
Now you may be surprised, but this pass was not completed. pic.twitter.com/WMmDH2A5Zq— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 2, 2018
Jake Fromm, a true freshman quarterback who replaced starter Jacob Eason early in the season, made what may have been his biggest mistake early in the fourth quarter. Upon being pressured, he tossed the ball to no one in particular, causing an intentional grounding penalty that eventually led to a punt. This was one ugly-looking throw.
The error also had the unintended effect of giving Oklahoma a renewed sense of hope. It gave Baker a chance to rise.
CeeDee Lamb’s Catch to Spark the Sooners
And rise Baker did. On the ensuing possession, he looked like the Mayfield college football fans have come to know and love: exuberant, electric, and efficient. The turning point was this completion to CeeDee Lamb, a 6-foot-1 freshman who made an athletic grab to give the drive life.
Oklahoma would score soon thereafter, tying it up again, this time at 38.
Steven Parker’s Scoop-and-Score
This is where things began to unravel, and where the game entered truly uncharted territory. Oklahoma’s defenders had functioned as little more than traffic cones for the majority of the second half, yet they came through with the play that seemed like it could clinch a Sooners victory.
Michel fumbled the ball just shy of the 50-yard line, and the brown leather oblong bounced perfectly into the hands of Steven Parker. He tiptoed his way to the end zone to temporarily put Oklahoma back on top.
The Oklahoma-defense-as-hero narrative, like many others, would get buried beneath the mess that was still to come.
Michel’s 17-Yard Gain Sets Up a Touchdown to Force Overtime
Georgia responded to the scoop-and-score. Fromm led the Bulldogs down the field for a game-tying drive that was punctuated by a 2-yard Chubb touchdown run with 55 seconds left in regulation. It was a play a few snaps earlier, though, that changed the course of the possession.
Fromm evaded a tackler and burst forward in the pocket. He flipped a screen pass to Michel, who somehow made his way to the Sooners’ 23-yard line. This set the stage for Mayfield to have one final chance to answer in regulation. He couldn’t do it. And the game headed to overtime.
Lorenzo Carter’s Blocked Field Goal in Double Overtime
Lorenzo Carter's blocked field goal leads to Sony Michel's TD and the Dawgs win!!! pic.twitter.com/ok3bFFATei— DawgNation (@DawgNation) January 2, 2018
A key overtime play was bound to swing the outcome one way or the other. That play came at the hands of Lorenzo Carter, a Georgia senior who grazed an Oklahoma field goal try with his fingertips and in the process derailed the Sooners’ dreams. Roquan Smith has been the top defensive star on the Bulldogs defense all year, but Carter has enjoyed a stellar season in his own right. This was his crowning moment.
Carter’s block allowed Georgia to win the game in a way that only felt right: The Dawgs ran the damn ball.
Michel’s Wildcat Touchdown Wins the Game
Only one man stood in the Georgia backfield on the final play, and it wasn’t Fromm. By this point, there was no reason for Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart to disguise anything. One of Georgia’s devastating runners was going to carry the ball and dare Oklahoma’s defense to stop him. It couldn’t. And so Michel waltzed into the end zone, sending the Bulldogs to Atlanta, not to end their season, but to play in the national championship game.
It’s going to be hard to top this kind of theater in the title game, let alone in any playoff game from here on out. In a semifinal that featured everything, Georgia was able to deliver one more time than Oklahoma.