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ATLANTA – This wasn’t the way Ohio State was hoping to ring in the New Year.
On the stroke of midnight, kicker Noah Ruggles missed a potentially game-winning 50-yard field goal that would have sent the Buckeyes to the national championship game. Instead, Georgia escaped with a 42-41 win and now officially gets to defend its title against TCU on Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.
Here are three quick thoughts on an epic Peach Bowl:
Georgia will play for another national championship
The narrative surrounding Georgia heading into the CFP was that if it won a second consecutive title, it would signal a changing of the guard in the sport.
Kirby Smart built Georgia in his image, an identity he developed and honed while working as an assistant and winning titles with Nick Saban at Alabama. This Bulldogs team is consistently one that is physically imposing and stingy on defense with a must-win attitude that puts players in the NFL every year. Just like Crimson Tide.
The Bulldogs beat the Tide to win it all last year, and are trying to become the first program to win back-to-back titles since Saban did it with Bama in 2011 and 2012. Winning two straight national championships is something incredibly rare. deed And Ohio State almost made sure that didn’t happen.
There have only been six teams that have repeated as outright national champions since the AP poll began in 1936. Now, Georgia could be the seventh as it prepares to face the Horned Frogs.
Is Ohio State at a crossroads?
Over the past five weeks, since Ohio State lost to Michigan for the second straight time, the program has had to answer all kinds of questions about The Game. Even this week in Atlanta, Day and his players were asked questions about the Wolverines.
What were those days and weeks like after the loss? How hard was it to prepare for that semifinal game against Georgia after that Michigan loss? How would you feel about playing for Michigan in the national championship?
Things like this.
Ohio State’s response in this game would be telling. Would this team appear still defeated or more motivated? Day said he felt his team had an edge in practice this week. Was he serious or did he just talk about the coach?
Turns out it was for real. The Buckeyes were the more dominant team all night and nearly pulled off a huge upset in the final minutes.
It certainly looked like they would put an end, albeit probably briefly, to any further lines of questioning from Michigan. Sure, they hadn’t beaten their rival in two years, but they would have a chance to rule all of college football, not just the Big Ten. Would it have been enough to shift the balance of power in the conference in their favor?
Now we’ll never know.
Ohio State loses, though CJ Stroud makes a statement
The Ohio State quarterback was asked a lot about legacy earlier in the week. Did he need to beat Michigan to cement himself as one of the best quarterbacks in program history, even though he already is? Heading into the CFP semifinal, Stroud was a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy finalist, and had thrown for 7,775 yards and 81 touchdowns, good enough for second to the all-time leading rusher. Buckeyes time. list behind former quarterback JT Barrett.
In the loss to Georgia, he was 23-for-34 for 348 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, despite being sacked four times.
Stroud was outstanding against one of the best defenses in the country. He was surgical, picking off a secondary led by cornerback Kelee Ringo, and mostly evading a defensive front that featured star defensive tackle Jalen Carter.
He even had a chance to lead Ohio State to victory in the final minute. After Georgia took a one-point lead with 54 seconds left, the game was in Stroud’s hands. He made smart plays, like a 27-yard scramble to the UGA 31-yard line. And he threw the ball on third down when Georgia went full blitz, setting up the field goal attempt.
Stroud has been under fire for the past two years and has taken it all in stride. He maturely took responsibility for Michigan’s loss, even though Day assured him it didn’t fall on him. His performance against Georgia on Saturday night was worthy enough to send his team to the national championship game. The Buckeyes fell short.
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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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