The drama was not done in CFP semifinal, for Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud led the Buckeyes down the field for a game-winning field goal attempt. The drive stalled at the Georgia 32, where Noah Ruggles’s 50-yard kick was wide left, sealing the Bulldogs’ 42-41 Peach Bowl win.
The top-seeded Bulldogs will now face No. 3 seed Texas Christian in the CFP title game on Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
If the Bulldogs win there, it would serve as the ultimate career ending for Bennett, the former scout team quarterback who transferred away, then returned as a scholarship player who spent years climbing the depth chart.
Stroud, a Heisman Trophy award finalist like Bennett, was remarkable. But Bennett had the final say, throwing for 398 yards and three touchdowns, none more important than the one he spun to Mitchell in the corner of the end zone.
Stroud completed 23 of 34 passes for 348 yards and four scores. It was not enough.
The Bulldogs had never needed to respond to a deficit as large as the one they faced Saturday night. Georgia twice fell into a 14-point hole, the second late in the third quarter at 38-24.
Marvin Harrison Jr., a sophomore but already one of the best receivers in the country, grabbed two of Stroud’s touchdown passes in the first half as the Buckeyes surged ahead, and teammate Emeka Egbuka combined with Harrison to make Ohio State’s passing attack an unstoppable force. These receivers, combined with Stroud’s savvy, are the engines of the Buckeyes’ offense, and they thrived against the best defense they had faced all season.
Georgia trimmed Ohio State’s comfortable lead to 38-35 with Arian Smith’s 76-yard touchdown grab and a successful pass to Ladd McConkey on a two-point conversion. With 8:41 left in the game, Stroud and the offense took the field, the standout quarterback led the Buckeyes toward the end zone, but they couldn’t finish. Ruggles hit a 48-yard field goal to give the Buckeyes a precarious six-point lead. And Bennett pounced on the opportunity.
Ohio State snuck into the playoff. The last time the Buckeyes took the field, they looked vulnerable, with Michigan pummeling them in the fourth quarter. That lopsided defeat in late November forced Ohio State’s players to stay home during conference championship weekend, then rely on Southern California’s blowout loss in the Pac-12 title game to earn a playoff berth.
Despite the flaws exposed by Ohio State’s archrival, particularly its defense allowing explosive plays, the Buckeyes have one of the few rosters in the country that can match up with Georgia’s talent. Both programs reside on an exclusive tier in which five-star prospects flock to campus each year and their brands pique the interest of recruits nationwide. Those players gave Ohio State a chance — and the ability to hold a lead through much of the game — but Georgia prevailed.
After ending the program’s title drought last year, the Bulldogs returned with force this season. Their game against Missouri, a four-point road win that required a stout defensive effort in the fourth quarter, was the only scare. The SEC title game against LSU prompted concerns about Georgia’s pass defense, but the Bulldogs still won by 20. They’ve stormed through what was supposed to be a difficult opener against Oregon, then their conference slate and the SEC title game earlier this month. But what matters most is the next game, because this season will ultimately be remembered as one that ended with a national title or a year the Bulldogs fell short.