PASADENA, Calif. — The great thing about sports is there is always a next play or a next game to turn to. Or, in the case of Lorenzo Carter, there was a next season at Georgia.
There would’ve been a next season for Carter had he not decided to return to the Bulldogs for his senior year. By all estimations, the NFL was going to be there with a paycheck for the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Adonis. But there was so much Carter didn’t like about what happened at Georgia in 2016 — like the 8-5 final record and a certain Hail Mary play against Tennessee — that he just couldn’t bear leaving it the way it was.
Carter received some pointed criticism for being behind the receivers and not in position to bat away the desperation, last-second pass that Tennessee used to beat Georgia in Athens last season. But all of that was cleanly wiped away when Carter went high on Monday and batted down Oklahoma’s 27-yard field goal attempt in the second overtime.
Followed by the subsequent touchdown run by Sony Michel, Carter’s play is now one that will live on in UGA lore for a long time.
“You’re going to make plays and you’re not going to make plays, but at the end of the day you’ve got to keep going,” Carter said in Georgia’s celebratory locker room after the 54-48 double-overtime victory. “You’ve got to shake off whatever happened and play the next play. That’s the whole thing about this (Rose Bowl) game. We shook off a whole lot of bad things that happened to us and just kept chopping. You saw the results.”
Carter’s right about that. The Bulldogs trailed by 17 points in the first half and looked for all the world like they were overmatched by Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma’s explosive offense. But that only represented 30 minutes of game play, and Georgia knew it had another 30 to go. At least.
And the next 15 of the second half was something to remember. The Bulldogs recorded three of their five sacks during that third quarter and Carter kept “chopping wood” as well. When it was all over, Carter had collected 10 tackles, a half-sack and a tackle for loss. Only Roquan Smith with 11 stops had been more productive.
As for the outcome-defining play, the Bulldogs could not have been more happy it was made by Carter. It’s a tight team as it is, but Carter is one of the most beloved. He’s an eternal optimist, he’s funny, and he’s smart. He has comic-book characters on his socks and votes in elections and doesn’t mind telling anybody who asks why he voted the way he did.
He’s also long and tall and swift. On Monday, he was both getting after Mayfield in the backfield and chasing tight ends and running backs across the field in pass coverage.
But it was the blocked field goal that had the team so jacked. That just doesn’t happen much, and it has never happened for Carter. Not in college, not in high school, not in peewee ball.
“Zero,” he said of his career total of blocked kicks before now. “That was my first one. Ever. In my life.”
It came at the absolute best time. Oklahoma was expected to take another 3-point lead with the chip-shot try in the second overtime. But Carter had different ideas.
“I just had to get through there,” Carter said, still excited a half-hour later. “There was space the whole game, so I just jumped through. I stayed on my feet, got my hands up, and got one on the ball.”
He said he knew he caught the ball “pretty good” but wasn’t sure how good.
“I had to turn and make sure it didn’t keep going through,” Carter said. “When I saw it didn’t it was just crazy.”
Carter’s teammates jumped on him and beat on his helmet on the sideline. It was hard to keep focus as Georgia’s offense went back on the field.
Carter’s buddies were still beaming about him afterward.
“The Notre Dame game he did it, the Auburn game he had a strip on Kerryon Johnson and now right here,” said fellow outside linebacker and “Wolf Pack” member Davin Bellamy. “That outside linebacker room, we know we’re special. We know one of us is going to make a play.”
As for what happened versus Tennessee a year ago, Bellamy laughed.
“We could’ve played that play a thousand times last year and he knocks the ball down 99 percent of the time,” Bellamy said. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way. But in games like this, if you’re in that outside linebacker room, you’re expected to stand up games like this. And Zo did.”
It’s just more evidence that all these seniors coming back to give it one more shot for Georgia have made this into an incredibly special season.
“We came back for a reason,” Carter said. “We came back for this. We couldn’t leave this team behind. There’s something special about this team. It’s going to be tough to deny us.”