ATHENS — Georgia football finished the season on a decidedly upward and relieved note as a 53-yard field goal sailed through the uprights to lead the Bulldogs to a 24-21 Peach Bowl victory and another Top 10 finish.
For all of the recruiting rankings and stars Kirby Smart has put together in his five years as head coach, it took a walk-on kicker and a last-minute preseason transfer quarterback to get the job done with a 7-play, 44-yard last-minute drive.
Smart was quick to say it wasn’t Georgia’s best performance, but he was proud of the grit and determination his make
Those are the kind of drives that earn a quarterback trust and inspire confidence within the locker room, which it’s safe to safe JT Daniels has done over the final two months of the season.
Cincinnati might not have the street cred of some Power 5 teams that appeared in bowl games, but the seasoned Bearcats that Georgia faced proved every bit worth their Top 10 ranking.
The silver lining to the Bulldogs’ victory was that it was of the come-from-behind nature, and it represented the largest second-half comeback of Smart’s 5-year tenure. It required strong execution by the offense, defense and special teams on a day Georgia was forced into using a makeshift lineup.
Three positions on the offensive line were shuffled, and two players in the secondary took extensive snaps at cornerback and safety for the first time the season.
Here’s a look at what stock when up, and down, in Georgia’s Peach Bowl victory:
Azeez Ojulari: Ojulari’s decision to “opt-in” after receiving a high NFL draft grade will be a cited as an example of how to finish the right way, as the outside linebacker recorded three sacks and a game-changing fumble, leaving his career on the highest note possible by triggering a safety on the final play. Ojulari was an FWAA Freshman All-American last season and the first-ever freshman appointed as a team captain by Smart, and he showed why.
Jack Podlesny: The most obvious of the many heroes in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl with his 53-yard, game-winning kick. The walk-on from St. Simons is surely on his way to scholarship status, as he also had field goal makes of 37 and 32 yards. “Pod” finished the season 13-of-16 on his field goal attempts, amazingly 3-for-3 beyond 50 yards.
Jordan Davis: Georgia fans are truly embracing Davis, as his popularity is at an all-time high with his blocked field goal and the havoc he caused throughout the game as a pass rusher and run stopper against an overmatched freshman center. It’s been a while since a fanbase has wanted a defensive player to return for another year the way they adore Davis.
Kenny McIntosh: McIntosh stepped in and stepped up on the final game-winning drive with James Cook out on account of the sudden death of his father. McIntosh gained 12 of his 17 rushing yards on one carry, but it was his work in the pass game that shined, as he finished the game’s second-leading receiver with 5 catches for 43 yards.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats said before the game they had a “tough and nasty” plan for the Bulldogs, and they showed up and played as they said they would by physically beating the Georgia offense. JT Daniels took several hard shots, and it was to the point where UGA felt a pass was safer than a run on fourth-and-1. Luke Fickell isn’t done — look for him to one-day get a job at a major Power 5 program and face Smart in a CFP game.
Adam Anderson: Say hello to next season’s Georgia football sacks leader, as Anderson figures to get better playing the run and setting the edge. Anderson is already a force coming off the edge, and he came through with two sacks and a fumble recovery in the bowl game.
JT Daniels: Welcome to the SEC’s version of the big-time, where a 26-of-38 passing performance for 392 yards and game-winning drive is expected against a Top 10 team. Plenty of UGA fans were actually critical of Daniels after the win, perhaps unaware that brutal hits, constant pressure and rusty receiver play led to a less-than-perfect performance.
Stetson Bennett: Bennett hasn’t played since suffering a sprained shoulder in the 44-28 loss to Florida — Georgia was up 14-0 when he was injured — but he showed he’s ready and waiting should his number be called again. Bennett trotted on the field after a Bearcats’ defender ripped off Daniels’ helmet — with no penalty— and fired a 12-yard strike to John FitzPatrick without the slightest hesitation.
Nakobe Dean: Speaking of ridiculously high expectations, everyone continues to expect Dean to step up as the next Roquan Smith — no pressure there. The thing is, Dean is playing excellent football and he’s clearly going to be the leader of this defense moving forward. Dean had a team-high 7 tackles, including an open-field takedown that saved the day.
George Pickens: Seven catches, 135 yards and a touchdown made for another big day for the Bulldogs’ top receiver. A 10-yard holding penalty and a drop seemed uncharacteristic, though for a 2021 preseason first-team All-SEC pick.
Zamir White: White had a 12-yard highlight run, coming off would be tacklers and spinning away from a hit, driving his legs for what proved to be UGA’s longest run from scrimmage. White (11 carries, 39 yards) showed speed on a 9-yard sprint around end for a TD. It wasn’t a perfect performance, as White also had a fumble and fell in the open field on a catch, but it was a solid day.
Latavious Brini: It was impressive to watch Brini improve as the game progressed to the tune of 5 tackles and 2 TFLs when he came up aggressively with open-field stops on short passes.
Tyson Campbell: The defensive back had a key late-game pass break-up, but the Cincinnati game was more evidence Campbell’s coverage skills don’t yet match his combine measurables. NFL teams will want to use him as a safety or a nickel at this point of his development, making him a prime candidate to boost his draft stock — like Eric Stokes did this season — by staying another year.
Matt Luke: Whaaaaat?! Everyone loves Matt Luke, yes, but he proved to be human after all with this bowl line shuffle after pulling a rabbit out of his hat in last year’s Sugar Bowl line shuffle. The offensive line didn’t play well as a whole, and that was the biggest upset of all the matchups in the game. Georgia thought it could run effectively against Cincinnati. It did not.
Jake Camarda: There wasn’t much room for Camarda to go up after his All-American season, as he starred in many victories with one great punt after another and strong kickoffs. Camarda, unfortunately, had a 4-yard shank that opened the door for Cincinnati’s first TD. Punter is an unforgiving position, but Camarda has shown he can bounce back before after struggles in big games with Notre Dame and Texas.
Lewis Cine: The biggest hitter in the SEC and as intimidating of a force as there is in college football, the work Cine missed in practice led to only an average performance from this phenomenal talent. Cine missed an open-field tackle on the 79-yard TD run, a sign he wasn’t his typical self. Cine is a future All-American and NFL player, but Covid doesn’t discriminate.
Jermaine Burton: This is another tough one, and it’s not really fair because Burton missed a lot of bowl preparation on account of Covid protocol. But if the coaches felt he was healthy enough to play and perform, then the expectation follows. Burton has been a rising star throughout the season and one rusty bowl performance (1 catch, 6 yards) will not change the game-breaking plays he has ahead.