ATHENS – Breaking down the 2017 Georgia football season to determine the 10 biggest moments is not an easy task. Anybody who watched the Bulldogs’ Rose Bowl game against Oklahoma knows there were at least 10 memorable moments in that contest alone – maybe in each half even. That’s why that 54-48 double-overtime victory will go down as one of the greatest in Georgia history.
But in the interest of whittling down the multitudes of moments into manageable bundles, let’s take the last 6 seconds of the first half and call it one.
And, boy, was that one big, whopping moment.
The Bulldogs found themselves on the ropes against Oklahoma and its highly decorated quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Sooners went to Pasadena with a suitcase full of new wrinkles and then seemed to unpack them all in the first two quarters. The Dogs were having a good day as well and hung with them for a while. But before you could say RPO, Oklahoma suddenly had a 31-14 lead.
What’s more, only 6 seconds remained in the half after Oklahoma completed a 90-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard TD pass – to Mayfield no less. The announcers were singing the Sooners’ praises and the red-and-black mass that flocked to the Rose Bowl had grown quiet.
Then came the squib kick.
In a decision that will haunt Lincoln Riley for a long while, Oklahoma’s first-year head coach elected to have his team squib on the ensuing kickoff. A “squib” is when the kicker line-drives the ball off the tee, bouncing it along the ground in the theory that it will consume more clock because it will be difficult for the receiving team to handle.
It wasn’t. Not for Georgia’s Tae Crowder. The backup linebacker, playing on the front line of the Bulldogs’ kickoff return team, plucked Austin Seibert’s hard line drive right out of the air. Not only that, Crowder had the poise and savvy to know to immediately down the ball. When he dove to the ground, 5 seconds still remained on the clock and Georgia had the ball at the Oklahoma 47.
“Just got down, just something you do,” the redshirt sophomore said.
A great play and a great moment, but the Bulldogs still needed to do something with it. And they did.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney already had left the coaches’ booth and was in an elevator on his way to the Georgia locker room. So he was unaware that his team suddenly found itself within striking distance of a score. So it was receivers coach James Coley – himself a former offensive coordinator, who made the call for the Bulldogs to attempt a quick out.
That wasn’t what Oklahoma was expecting. The Sooners secondary already had trotted out on the field and was lining up near the goal line to protect against a desperation deep pass attempt. But Georgia had other ideas.
With a timeout still in their bag, the Bulldogs figured if they could get 9 or 10 yards, they could give kicker Rodrigo Blankenship – who already had missed a 48-yard attempt in the first quarter – a long-shot try. And that’s exactly what happened.
Quarterback Jake Fromm hit receiver Terry Godwin on the right sideline for a 9-yard gain. Coach Kirby Smart already was running toward the referee to call timeout before Godwin had even hauled in the pass. The quick call left 1 second on the clock, which was enough for “Hot Rod” and his crew to get lined up for a 55-yard field-goal attempt. Blankenship made it, giving him a career long, setting a Rose Bowl record and getting the Bulldogs to within 2 scores rather than 3 with the ball coming their way on the first possession of the second half.
Those 3 points initiated a scoring run for Georgia that didn’t end until it had reeled off 24 unanswered points. The Sooners fought back, but Georgia finally pulled it out in double overtime, winning 54-48.
“I don’t know that we necessarily lost momentum, [but] that probably gave them a little bit of juice,” Riley said after the game. “They were able to steal 3 points on us.”
Three more points in what had been an incredible season of clutch kicking for Blankenship. Placed on scholarship the week of the Notre Dame game, Blankenship had made the winning kick in that 20-19 victory, made 2 in the SEC Championship Game and made a pair in the Rose Bowl, including a 38-yarder in the first overtime.
But the real hero of the particular play in question was Crowder, who managed to snatch the ball out of the air to his left despite its tremendous velocity and the bright lights of the moment.
“It was just like shortstop,” Crowder joked. “I played a little shortstop in baseball.”
Coaches and teammates were beaming about Crowder, a career backup who switched from running back to linebacker a year ago and contributes almost exclusively on special teams.
“I’d love to say that we coached that; I’d love to say that we work [on] that all the time,” said Shane Beamer, Georgia’s special teams coordinator who recently joined the Oklahoma staff. “That’s really just Tae Crowder, who’s a really good football player making a really, really good football play. Changed the game.”
A shining moment, indeed.
Top 10 Moments series