ATHENS — Kirby Smart saw this Ohio State storm coming the past two seasons knowing his Bulldogs would probably need to go through it at some point on its journey to the top of the college football world.
Georgia football survived the Buckeyes’ challenge on Saturday night by the slimmest of margins, a missed 50-yard field goal attempt at the stroke of midnight determine the outcome in a 42-41 Instant Classic.
It took every look from Smart’s defensive scheme every page of Todd Monken’s playbook and every ounce of buy-in from a reloaded team that has exceeded realistic expectations.
Teams aren’t supposed to lose 15 players to the NFL Draft and repeat as national champions, but that’s what these No. 1-ranked Bulldogs are on the verge of doing.
Georgia is a prohibitive favorite to finish the job at 7:30 p.m. next Monday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., where it will face Big 12 runner-up TCU in the CFP Championship Game.
Here’s a look at how individual players are trending coming out of a historic CFP Peach Bowl Semifinal, which saw the Bulldogs become the first team in the CFP era to win after trailing by 14 or more points in the fourth quarter:
Javon Bullard: The sophomore safety was named the Defensive MVP of the game after coming up with Georgia’s most pivotal play of the night, a bone-jarring hit that separated Marvin Harrison Jr. from the ball in the end zone and left the Ohio State star sprawled out on the turf. The Buckeyes settled for a field goal and Harrison Jr. did not return to the game, leaving the Ohio State pass game lacking punch the rest of the night.
Kenny McIntosh: McIntosh went for more than 100 total yards yet again, leading Georgia with 5 receptions he turned into 56 yards, including the Bulldogs’ first TD of the night. McIntosh also led UGA rushers with 70 yards on 5 carries, including a 52-yard burst that proved the second-longest offensive play in the game.
Arian Smith: The lightly-used, often-injured speedster had the first multi-catch game of his career, including a 76-yard TD catch that saw him run wide-open past a defensive back. Smith proved a major X-Factor on a night the Bulldogs needed one, with tight end Darnell Washington injured early.
Christopher Smith: The Georgia All-American safety had another tremendous outing, leading the team with 8 tackles while quarterbacking a defense that didn’t give up any plays over 37 yards — an impressive feat considering the gifted talent UGA faced in Buckeyes’ quarterback C.J. Stroud.
Broderick Jones: The Georgia left tackle simply does not appear to get beat in pass blocking, and he has greatly improved his run blocking each of the past two seasons. An NFL starter in the making, Jones provides invaluable backside peace of mind in pass protection.
Amarius Mims: The sophomore made the most of his first start at right tackle, grading out higher overall than any of Georgia’s other offensive linemen. The experience Mims gained this season was pivotal with Warren McClendon missing his first start in 38 games.
Nazir Stackhouse: Stackhouse made the most of the extra attention the Buckeyes’ blockers were paying to Jalen Carter and had three stops in grading out highest among the Georgia defensive starters.
Daijun Edwards: Strong runs from Edwards, whose powerful legs enabled him to churn through tackles and break off a 21-yard run. Edwards also had a catch for 9 yards and could have another breakout performance against TCU next Monday.
Jalen Carter: No. 88 was relegated to just one tackle and one pass break-up, as Ohio State targeted Georgia’s most talented player and effectively neutralized him. Carter missed an open-field sack on Stroud, as well, but still clogged the interior rush lanes.
Stetson Bennett: Bennett came through in the clutch, handed the obligatory MVP award and holding his stock even on a night Smart said left something to be desired. Bennett’s three lowest-graded offensive outings have come in the last four games, per PFF metrics. The hunch here is Bennett will be sharp against the Horned Frogs and outplay Max Duggan in the CFP title game.
Jack Podlesny: The Bulldogs’ kicker announced his intention to play in an all-star game and go pro last week, but he didn’t have a good audition against Ohio State, making just 2 of 4 field goals with misses from 47 and 52 yards.