Kirby Smart ‘gut reaction’ timeout changed flow in Georgia’s 42-41 win over Ohio State
ATLANTA — Kirby Smart scored one of the greatest victories of his career on Saturday night, his No. 1-ranked Georgia program staging a historic come-from-behind victory over Ohio State.
The Bulldogs rallied for a 42-41 victory over the Buckeyes, becoming the first team in College Football Playoff history to come from two touchdowns down in a fourth quarter (35-21) to win a game.
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“Great resiliency, never-say-die attitude, toughness,” Smart said, moments after his team become the first in school history to run its record to 14-0.
“I mean, at the end of the day, we didn’t play really well. Ohio State probably deserved to win the game, but we never quit.”
Smart might have made the biggest play of the night himself when he called timeout an instant before Ohio State successfully executed a fake punt in the fourth quarter.
“They were just not in their traditional formation,” Smart said, asked what he saw that led him to run down the sideline and call the timeout with 8:58 left that changed the court of the game.
“It was one of those gut reactions that I didn’t think we had lined up properly to stop it, so we called timeout.”
The Buckeyes ended up punting, and on the very next play after that, Arian Smith reeled in a 76-yard touchdown pass that pulled the Bulldogs back within 38-35 with 8:41 left.
The Buckeyes had appeared in control and virtually unstoppable until star receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. was knocked out of the game with a concussion with 35 seconds left in the third quarter.
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Harrison had 106 yards and 2 touchdowns on five catches before a hit from Javon Bullard in the back of the end zone knocked him out.
The Bulldogs delivered punishing hits all night, from the early onset when Christopher Smith delivered a shot that knocked the helmet off Ohio State running back Dallan Hayden.
Smart and his football team didn’t stay on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium very long, however, very well aware the season mission is not complete.
Georgia will face TCU — a 51-45 winner over Michigan earlier on Saturday — in the CFP Championship Game at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
“I don’t know that we’re ready for TCU right now,” Smart said. “Based on what I just saw, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
“I don’t know enough about TCU, but I know I respect their coach and their program, and they did a tremendous job today, but we’ve got to play better.”
Smart pointed out Georgia missed field goals of 47 and 52 yards, and he said he was particularly disappointed by the four-play, 75-yard TD drive his Bulldogs allowed right before halftime.
Georgia out-gained Ohio State 533-467 on the night, both quarterbacks lighting up the scoreboard in flurries.
C.J. Stroud was 23-of-34 passing for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns. Stroud also rushed 8 times for 71 yards, but he was sacked four times for minus-37 yards.
“We tried man, we tried zone, we mixed it up,” Smart said. “The most disappointing was the series before the half. They earned it most of the time, and we had some big momentum stops in the first half and then had some big momentum stops in the second half.”
Stetson Bennett won Offensive MVP honors, 23-of-34 passing for 398 yards with 3 touchdown passes and an interception. Bennett was sacked twice for -25 yards and gained 7 yards on 5 carries.
“We talked at halftime about some games that we have been in this year that we’ve been behind in, including the Missouri game,” Smart said, referring to a contest that saw UGA overcome a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit en route to a 26-22 road win.
“We didn’t play out best football game. A lot of that had to do with Ohio State,” he said.
“If we want any chance at winning a national championship, we have to play a lot better football than we played tonight. We’ve got to keep the resiliency and composure along with us.”