Everything seemed bleak as Cincinnati led by two scores in the second half.
Georgia’s offense lost any semblance of rhythm. The Bearcats probably had the motivation swing as the American Athletic Conference underdogs. Cincinnati had a mission to topple the SEC power.
A look at the Georgia sideline showed a dejected team. ESPN sideline analyst Kris Budden said the team has “bad communication” and looked “shell shocked.”
The Bulldogs have seen this movie once before, after all. They missed the College Football Playoff and laid an egg against Texas in the 2019 Sugar Bowl. Georgia needed fireworks Friday because it had made uncharacteristic mistakes that hadn’t been seen this season — even in double-digit losses to Alabama and Florida.
Slowly but surely, Georgia’s momentum shifted. Cincinnati lost its own rhythm behind quarterback Desmond Ridder — the Bearcats’ only big play was a 75-yard burst to open the second half. Otherwise, after returning from the halftime locker room, Cincinnati didn’t have much.
The only problem was that Georgia couldn’t capitalize, either. The Bulldogs came away with zero points in their first three trips within the 25-yard-line.
Azeez Ojulari, who many expected to opt out on a defensive unit that missed multiple starters for the Peach Bowl. He came alive. The NFL-caliber pass rusher saved the day. He bursted toward Ridder, stripped the football and Georgia recovered. A few plays later, the offense found life on a toss sweep touchdown to running back Zamir White.
“You never know. Just got the opportunity to play for another game, so I took advantage of it, to play with my brothers,” Ojulari said after potentially his final game at Georgia. “It was great.”
Georgia (8-2) topped Cincinnati, 24-21, to avoid the ramifications of losing to a Group of Five team in a New Year’s Six bowl. For a majority of regulation, Georgia looked ugly. It looked out of place. Cincinnati played like the superior team.
“I’m really proud of these guys, how hard they fought,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “I don’t think anybody really truly understands, not just Georgia, but how hard it was on entire college football to be persistent, to go this long, practice this long.”
Georgia’s motivation became a prominent concern. The 28-21 loss to the Longhorns hasn’t drifted far from the minds of many.
But the play that finished it off was a 54-yard field goal by Jack Podlesny, who might’ve cemented legacy status in his own right replacing Rodrigo Blankenship. Georgia regained possession after stopping Cincinnati on a 3rd-and-2 deflection by cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.
Ojulari finished with three sacks, two forced fumbles and a game-ending safety.
Oddly enough, the unit that had many players absent became dominant. The Bulldogs’ pass rush and the late-game offensive resurgence saved them from a glaring defeat.