Georgia scored in the final minute of the game, and Ohio State missed a field goal in the first minute of 2023.
ATLANTA — The Georgia Bulldogs appeared very nearly finished, just as they had looked for much of Saturday night.
Adonai Mitchell had caught a touchdown in the final minute of the Peach Bowl, one of the College Football Playoff’s semifinal showdowns, and Georgia had a lead of one measly point over Ohio State. But here were the Buckeyes, the No. 4 seed that had slid into the playoff after a debacle of a loss to Michigan, at the line of scrimmage and preparing for a field goal to win.
The perpetual clock showed midnight Eastern time and the start of 2023. The clock that mattered more here, though, showed eight seconds, and the uprights stood 50 yards away, the kind of cruel distance that promised to leave one team a championship contender and the other an also-ran.
The snap came. Noah Ruggles swung his right leg, and then the ball swung wide to the left. The triumph of the comeback ordeal — and it was very much an ordeal for the 79,330 people inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta — would belong to Georgia, and Georgia alone. The Bulldogs won, 42-41, to advance to the national championship game against No. 3 Texas Christian, which toppled second-ranked Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl.
“We didn’t play our best football game — a lot of that had to do with Ohio State,” said Georgia Coach Kirby Smart, who added, “If we want any chance at winning a national championship, we have to play a lot better football than we played tonight.”
Indeed, the Bulldogs, like the Horned Frogs of T.C.U., have much to consider between now and their meeting in California on Jan. 9. Perhaps most urgently, Georgia will need to figure out where and how its vaunted defense, which entered the Peach Bowl having allowed opponents about 292 yards a game, went wrong enough to surrender 467.
Ohio State, of course, brought a formidable offense to Atlanta, with C.J. Stroud, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, at quarterback and a wizard of a receiver, Marvin Harrison Jr., all too ready to make any given play fodder for a hype video next season at the Horseshoe. For much of the night, that offense threatened to expel top-seeded Georgia and end its quest to become the lone back-to-back champion in playoff history.
Georgia was hardly caught unaware. Its players and coaches had preached how fearsome Ohio State could be and how the Buckeyes’ loss to Michigan was far from an indictment.
The Bulldogs, who won last season’s title as the No. 3 seed, had watched the film. They had studied the habits and tells of Coach Ryan Day’s team. They had swagger and, effectively, a home-field advantage. And it still did not take long for the Buckeyes to conjure chaos.