Game balls from the CFP semifinal win over Ohio State

ATLANTA — No. 1 Georgia took down Ohio State 42-41 on Saturday to win the College Football Playoff semifinal, earning its third trip to the CFP National Championship in six years for Kirby Smart and his program. Georgia trailed by 14 points twice, and seemed down for the count multiple times in the Peach Bowl against Ohio State on Saturday night. In the end, the clock struck midnight on 2022 and the Buckeyes’ season simultaneously, as a missed field goal kick led to a dramatic win for the Bulldogs. Georgia got some strong performances to put Ohio State away in the hard-fought victory and below, we acknowledge the best of the best by handing out game balls.

– QB Stetson Bennett IV: There are throws, reads, and decisions that Bennett would love to have back in this game. But in the fourth quarter, when his team needed it most, the sixth-year quarterback showed why he was a Heisman finalist. Down 41-35 with 2 minutes and 25 seconds left in the game, Bennett completed all five passes for 72 yards, culminating in a 10-yard touchdown pass that gave Georgia its second lead of the game with less than a minute of regulation remaining. In the fourth quarter, Bennett completed 10-of-12 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns, helping Georgia score 17 points on its final three possessions. He would finish 23-of-34, same as Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud, with 398 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, and a three-yard touchdown run, further cementing himself in Georgia lore.

-RB Kenny McIntosh: Like Bennett, McIntosh had a couple of plays he would like to use a mulligan on from the win over Ohio State. He was not on the same page with his quarterback on the first half interception by Steele Chambers. He fell victim to the Mercedez Benz turf monster on a 52-yard run that saw him seemingly heading to the end zone. In the end, McIntosh once again showed why his all-around ability with the ball in his hands will earn him an opportunity to be featured on Sundays, gaining 126 yards on 10 touches, including a 25-yard touchdown catch. Last season saw James Cook average 7.2 yards per touch, gaining 1,012 yards from scrimmage with 12 touchdowns in 15 games. He would parlay that into being a second round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Through 14 games, McIntosh has 1,285 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns, averaging 7.02 yards per touch. Once again, a Georgia tailback’s patience has paid off in his senior season.

-TE Brock Bowers: When Darnell Washington went down with a sprained ankle, many felt it would lead to an increased role for the All-American tight end Brock Bowers. In the end, Bennett would target 10 different pass catchers, spreading the ball around Adonai Mitchell leading the team with seven goals and McIntosh next with six goals. Bowers would be targeted five times, catching four of them for 64 yards, including 18 yards after the catch. But that is not why Bowers is on this list. Down 38-27, facing 4th and 6 at the Ohio State 13-yard line with 12 minutes to go in the game, Bennett completed a pass down the right sideline, with Bowers stretching out for the first down while using rare body control to stay. off the ground. Ruled short on the field, the replay review overturned the call, a video that set the internet abuzz with debate as to how Bowers was able to stay inbounds and keep the drive going. Three plays later, Georgia kicked a field goal, points that would ultimately become pivotal in the one-point victory.

– Right tackle Amarius Mims: Mims came about as close as a player can to departing via the transfer portal, entering during the spring and visiting Florida State before deciding to return to Athens. After playing in a backup role in eight games in 2021, Mims continued that role in 2022, albeit with increased snaps in 12 games heading into Saturday. That changed in the Peach Bowl, when the sophomore made his first career start, in place of the injured Warren McClendon, at right tackle. Sims performed exceptionally well against a Buckeyes front with NFL talent, opening up holes for a running back trio that gained 154 yards on just 16 carries, while allowing Bennett to throw for 398 yards. On the tunnel screen touchdown to McIntosh, Mims gets downfield and blows Buckeyes safety Lathan Ransom off camera, one of several impressive plays for yet another highly-rated Georgia player who waited his turn and has a bright future ahead of him.

-WR Arian Smith: For two years on the Junkyard Dawgcast, we talked about James Cook and how the offense would not reach its potential unless they found a way to tap into Cook’s playmaking ability. Likewise, Smith has been discussed on the podcast as the missing piece of Georgia’s passing attack – a unicorn whose existence was rarely seen. Injuries have sapped Smith’s career to date, but he arrived in Atlanta healthy and made his presence known when on the field. Smith was thrown to three times Saturday, catching all three passes for 129 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown that was preceded by Rusty Mansell leaning over to Jordan D. Hill and I and pointing to Smith being lined up in the slot. Credit where credit is due.

– DB Javon Bullard: Sure, the defense gave up 467 yards and 41 points, forcing zero turnovers in a shootout that Georgia could have thrown in the towel several times as Stroud evaded a banged up pass rush and continuously picked apart a secondary that was being asked to cover the future. NFL wide receivers longer than NFL cornerbacks are asked to do more than a handful of times in one game. But Bullard came through twice when Georgia’s defense needed him the most. First, in the third quarter, with Ohio State up 35-24, Bullard came home on the blitz, the fourth time he has taken down an opposing quarterback this season, forcing a 3rd and 12 that derailed a Buckeyes offense that had scored touchdowns on its last two possessions. Then, with Ohio State up 38-24 and threatening to take a three-touchdown lead at the end of the third quarter, Bullard blasted the star wideout. Marvin Harrison Jr. in the back of the end zone, preventing a touchdown on a play that was called targeting before being overturned via replay, which showed a legal hit that happened to knock out Ohio State’s superstar for the rest of the game. While Harrison’s absence undoubtedly had an impact on the rest of the game, it was Bullard’s textbook defensive forced incompletion that netted him the ball game here.

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