ATLANTA — Competitive stamina was a theme for No. 4 Ohio State all season. Head coach Ryan Day knew his Buckeyes would have to play their best ball against No. 1 Georgia on Saturday, and it would take 40+ points, and a competitive stamina to keep fighting for four quarters — and that’s exactly how it went down Saturday night in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, College Football Playoff Semifinal.
But in a back-and-forth thriller, Ohio State fell short in a 42-41 loss that came down to the last play.
Ohio State kicker Noah Ruggles missed a field goal attempt wide left from 50 yards as time expired and Georgia was ahead 42-21.
“Our team came out and swung and played hard in this game, came up short,” head coach Ryan Day said. “It came down to one play. It wasn’t just the last play. There were a lot of plays in the game that you wish you had back as coaches and players. That’s what happens in games like this.”
The Buckeyes had momentum and the lead, but the late fourth quarter was a story of its own.
After an Ohio State field goal late in the third quarter, Georgia was 4th-and-6 in plus territory and after review their attempt was ruled a first down. Georgia kicked a field goal to make it a 38-27 game. Ohio State punted on its next possession and getting the ball back, Georgia receiver Arian Smith ran in for a 76-yard touchdown to bring the score to 38-35 with just under nine minutes remaining in the game.
In the next fourth quarter critical sequence, Ohio State was without superstar wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and tight end Cade Stover due to injuries. Buckeye quarterback C.J. Stroud scrambled 17 yards for a critical first down and kept the drive alive. It was capped with a 48-yard field goal from Ruggles.
Georgia quickly responded with a 10-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Stetson Bennett to make the score 42-41 with 0:54 remaining. Stroud drove the ball down the field to get in field goal range, but deciding the winner and loser and the team that will move on and compete for a National Championship came down to that one play.
“The plan was to go out there and let it all out and we did that,” defensive lineman Zach Harrison said immediately following the loss. “There are definitely plays we would like to have back but we played hard and I am proud of my guys for doing that.”
While all eyes were on the Bulldog’s defense, Stroud rose to the challenge and played like he had something to prove.
No, Stroud wasn’t running the ball, but he showed his ability to adapt and move in the pocket to create time for himself to throw it effectively. Stroud was excellent throwing on the run and scrambling under pressure. His frequent target Harrison Jr. stayed patient with Stroud to make the connections and without Harrison Jr., Egbuka stepped up. Stroud stayed poised despite feeling pressure on the first drive and was successful in third and short situations.
Stroud finished 23 of 34 for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Stroud rushed for 34 yards on 12 carries. Harrison Jr. had five receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns, reaching 100 yards early in the second quarter. Emeka Egbuka led Ohio State with 112 yards on eight catches and one touchdown.
The first quarter wasn’t perfect but Ohio State made Georgia work for everything they got on offense. Ohio State’s defense made it difficult for Georgia to be productive early on. That combined with Stroud’s performance gave the Buckeyes a 21-7 lead.
But momentum shifted as Ohio State was forced to punt on back-to-back drives after scoring on three in a row in the first half. Sloppy play hindered the Buckeyes’ ability to get in a rhythm offensively. Stroud’s star performance could only go so far as the defense felt Georgia’s aggressiveness and the scales began to tip in their favor.
Ohio State’s defense gave up a mix of feast or famine from that point on. Georgia capitalized on mismatches down field for explosive plays but at other times Ohio State put obvious pressure on Bennett, disrupting his game leading to sacks and interceptions.
Georgia scored 17 unanswered points before Ohio State went 75 yards on four plays in under a minute to take the 28-24 lead before halftime.
The Buckeyes found the momentum they wanted coming out of halftime and made the defensive adjustments that were needed.
Ohio State’s defense quickly forced a 3-and-out to open the second half, responded with an Egbuka touchdown, and followed that up by forcing another 3-and-out. Miscues on offense, sacks, and penalties got Ohio State off schedule and gave Georgia the ball with good field position but a Zach Harrison sack forced Georgia to settle for a 52-yard field goal but it was wide right. Ohio State gave up 0 points and only 14 yards on the first two drives of the second half. Georgia came up empty on three straight drives.
Both Ohio State and Georgia’s starting tight ends, Cade Stover and Darnell Washington respectively, left the game due to injuries in the first half. Harrison Jr. also left the game after taking a hit to the head in the end zone.
With the loss, Ohio State’s chances of winning the 2022 National Championship are over. The Buckeyes finish their season 11-2.