Georgia might have been down on players, but they were certainly were not out of heart. The players that wanted to be there showed up and fought for a well deserved Sugar Bowl win taking down the Bears from Baylor 26-14.
Thirteen players were missing in action for various reasons from injury, academics, or training for the NFL Combines. A few were undisclosed. Usually, when a team misses six starters, they find themselves in trouble. This is Georgia; their second team can be starters in other conferences ask the Big 12 representative.
Kirby Smart has taken some heat in recent years for some of his aggressive play-calling that may have cost them an SEC Championship and perhaps a National Championship. To his credit, he is who he is and will step up to the mic and provide his version.
Tonight they all worked a well-timed flea-flicker that picked up 40 yards which led to their first score. They ran an end-around and a perfectly executed fake field goal that put the game away.
Baylor went into halftime down 19-0. They came out with a gunslinger mentality. Charlie Brewer meticulously led the team on an impressive 8 play 75-yard touchdown drive. The feature play was a 40-yard pass to Denzel Mims. It was exactly what they needed to wake up the subdued crowd.
Georgia stalled, and they got the ball back, knowing they were facing a make or break. After a time out to second-guess the decision to go for it on 4th and 4 from the 46-yard line. They rolled the dice and came up snake eyes. Azeez Ojulari came off the end with a direct path to quarterback Charlie Brewer creating a sack-fumble on impact.
The Bulldogs were on prime real estate as a short field and sought to take full advantage. Unfortunately, they were denied by an inspired defense. They turned to their not so secret weapon Lou Gaza award-winning field goal kicker Rodrigo Blankenship for a 36-yard field goal.
It was a perfectly executed fake Jake Camardo found an open lane to pick up the first down. The chant of UGA filled the airways. On the next play, Zamir White maneuvered as if he was shot out of a cannon to score on a 13-yard blast. It was a devastating twist of fate that proved costly. The decision not to play the strategy of field position did them in. The Baylor Bears found themselves on the flip side of the formula. Instead of a manageable score of 19-7, suddenly, it was 26-7.
Coach Rhule reflected on his decision
“I really, really, really regret my decision to go for it on the one fourth down, crossing the 50th. That was a bad coaching move by me. It just quickly led to points on their end. That goes on me.”
Kirby Smart had outfoxed him
“Well, I wanted to call it the first time, and I chickened out. And then I wanted to call it the second time, and then I chickened out. So the third time was the charm because we didn’t want to do it on a long down and distance. We wanted to do it on a manageable. You have a fourth and two, and it’s there. And you have a fourth and three and it’s there. And you don’t know how many of those situations you’re going to have because it’s not a play that’s going to work on fourth and really long.
But we had worked it hard. Coach [Scott] Fountain and his staff had put it together. We thought it was there. And we’ve kicked so many field goals this year that you have got to score touchdowns. And I thought that would give us the momentum if we got it, and I felt like they were going to score points.”
In the absence of Lawerence Cager and Dominic Blaylock, freshman wide receiver George Pickens was featured on an elite level. He was the games Most Outstanding Player catching 12 of his 15 targeted passes for 175 yards with 1 touchdown. Impressively 165 yards were produced in the first half. The chemistry with him and Jake Fromm is a thing of beauty that produces absolute dimes. Fromm in perhaps his last game as a Georgia Bulldog connected on 20 of 30 passes for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Baylor Head Coach Rhule was impressed with Pickens performance
“He’s a really good player. When we left him one‑on‑one, he made the plays. When we played off him a little bit, they threw it out there, and he made guys miss. That had been their MO coming into it, was to get the ball to him. They continued to do that, and I think we played a little better against him in the second half.”
Baylor started aggressively with a determined gameplan featuring a balance between solid runs and assertive passing. It went array on an extra effort play by Treaten Ebner as he reached out to bring in a pass that tipped off his fingers and into the hands of the defender Richard LeCounte. A late Christmas gift delivered right down the shute. Trey Hill, the center, got too excited during the unwrapping ceremony and snapped the ball sky high over Jake Fromms’ head. Officially Baylor dodged a bullet.
On their next possession, Georgia pulled out the flea flicker to perfection a 46-yard pass to Pickens. They had to settle for a 24-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship. With such a massive offensive line that averages 329 lbs. One would think picking up one yard on third down would be near automatic.
Offensively those are the type of plays that’s haunted them all season and drew the ire of criticism throughout the season. Instead of touchdowns, they were forced to settle for field goals.
On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs defense dominated the first half allowing a total of 97 yards only 22 rushing yards while forcing the Bears into 6 penalties for 55 yards. Overall they stopped Baylor on each of their three fourth-down attempts.
Baylor fought to keep themselves in position to steal the game picking up chunk yardage on the left side of the Georgia defense, but their starting quarterback Charlie Brewer who suffered a concussion in the Big 12 Championship game was injured again on a late hit going out of bounds by Travon Walker with 8:44 remaining.
The backup quarterback Jaco Zeno tried to spark the come from behind victory but ran out of gas with an interception.
It was a different result for the 2019 version of the Georgia Bulldogs, who didn’t play from a depressive state as last year’s team that allowed Texas to injure their psyche defeating them 28-21. The standard for Georgia is to win the SEC Championship and participate in the CFP Playoffs and contend for a National Championship.
For Kirby Smart, he made the best of the consolation win.
“I finally got a Sugar Bowl victory. I’ve been to a lot of these and didn’t get many wins, but I got one this time. I’m proud of this team.