The Peach Bowl proved to be a dramatic final act for the Georgia football program in 2020. The late 53-yard field goal from redshirt sophomore walk-on kicker Jack Podlesny. The game-changing plays made the entire afternoon from redshirt sophomore OLB Azeez Ojulari.
Cincinnati (9-1) was vying to finish the 2020 season by knocking off an upper-tier SEC team in their home state and complete a season that said that non-Power 5 teams belong in the college football playoffs.
It was not to be. The Bulldogs needed to muster all they could while taking the best shot from the Bearcats. Georgia (8-2) was not at its best, but it summoned up its best football of the 2020 season when it was required in a 24-21 victory.
The Bearcats led 21-10 going into the fourth quarter. It was only the second time during Luke Fickell’s era that his team was unable to hold a halftime lead. Cincinnati was 26-1 prior to Friday’s result.
What happened late? Fickell shared an admirable view regarding his late-game strategy against the Bulldogs.
Why not run off more clock? Why throw the ball? Why not try to bleed more time off the clock?
‘Is that, really, are you serious?” he began as he framed up his answer.
Fickell went on to deliver a candid response as to why his team didn’t try to run off more clock to narrow the time window for Georgia to come back with that game-winning field goal.
“Because we’re going to play to win,” he said. “We play to win. And you know, we do what we do. It wasn’t like we wanted to throw the thing. It was an opportunity. It was three different options to it. You know, we’re not going to go back wondering and trying to play the wishing and wanting game.”
“We’re going to be aggressive. We are going to go and give our guys an opportunity. There’s a lot of different things we do differently when you go by hindsight, but we are going to play to win.”
That was perhaps the most telling comment of the post-game media Zoom sessions with the Bearcats. Here’s what else the American Athletic Conference champions had to say.
His opening statement: “Obviously like I told our guys, very disappointing when you come out so close, but it’s not — we’re not disappointed. I can’t tell you how proud I am of — I say the seniors all the time, but how proud I am of all these guys and all the different circumstances and all the things that have gone on not just this year but especially in the last probably month and a half, and how these guys have handled it and continued to move forward and take care of one another is what this game is really all about.
It hurts. Every one of those guys in there hurts because they care so much and they have worked so hard and sacrificed, and it is what it is. We’ll be better because of it.”
Regarding losing his starting OT in the first half due to targeting. How big of a factor was that? “I don’t know many offensive linemen thrown out of the game this year, but it happens. When one guy goes down, another guy has to be able to step up. We had a couple [of] guys in the last few days, or even the last few hours, who couldn’t make it, as well.”
What does his program take away from going toe-to-toe and leading for all but three seconds of the game against a top 10 team from the SEC? Was this a measuring stick type of game for his program: “We’re not there yet. That’s what keeps motivating you, and I think that you know, there’s a lot of things we’re going to take from this that we know we can do.
But it also helps us and makes us hungrier to say, hey, we know what we’ve got to get to, and there’s a few other steps that we’ve still got to be able to take, you know, closing it and sealing it and those kinds of things are one of those steps.”
How much did the Bearcats consider going for it late on fourth down on its final possession? They’ve gone for it previously this year on some fourth downs. Was there any consideration to try that again? “There was. You know, but again, you rely on your defense and — you know, so there’s a lot of things that you go back and try to look at and say, hey, there’s things you can do differently, but it was definitely a consideration.”
I think that the difficult thing, as big as they are upfront, knowing and trying to get some of those short yard situations, I don’t know that that was the greatest advantage for us. So we were going to put it in our defense’s hands and give them the opportunity to win the game for us.”
On what this Peach Bowl experience was like: “It’s been a wild week we’ve had. Not a normal Bowl experience where we come down for a week. Instead, we practiced at home till Wednesday and flew out here and had almost like a two-day business trip. We’ve been ready to play this game for a long time. It’s just, you know, disappointing, obviously, the way it ended.”
Regarding the fact that you came so close today, do you feel you guys can compete against any Power Five school?: “Absolutely. You know, we have the right coaches to prepare us, the right mentality. So absolutely, I have no doubt in that.”
Fickell followed up with his own thoughts on Bryant’s reply.
“He doesn’t know what that means,” Fickell said. “We don’t use that word, that P, whatever that is. They know what the SEC is; it’s the really, really good conference with really good teams and great players.
But we don’t look at anybody any different. Obviously, there’s conferences that are, you know, historic and great and teams, Georgia, doesn’t matter what conference they were in and what P was in front or after their name. That was a great football team and really loved the challenge.”