Georgia’s defense ‘answers the call’ after lackluster first half to key Bulldogs to Rose Bowl win

The Georgia defense takes down Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson in the first half of the NCAA playoff Rose Bowl game between Georgia and Oklahoma in Pasadena, CA. Monday, January. 1, 2018. (Photo/Joshua L. Jones, Athens Banner-Herald)

PASADENA, Calif. — Georgia defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter says the Bulldogs are coached to ignore the scoreboard.

 

That was a good thing on Monday — though Georgia (13-1) eventually topped Oklahoma (12-2) 54-48 in double overtime in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., the Bulldogs trailed by 14 points at the break. Georgia will play for the national championship in Atlanta on Jan. 8.

“The definition of grit, you go look it up, it’s this team,” Ledbetter said. “We’ve got determination and it comes from within. These guys answer the call every time and I can’t even say it for myself. I’m just going to speak on the players around me because I know they’d say the same things about me. They just turn it on when they’ve got to turn it on. You’ve seen the second half. We came out and did what we had to do to turn that thing on.”

By the end of the first half, Oklahoma had racked up 360 yards of total offense and run 40 plays to Georgia’s 28. The Sooners were 6 of 8 on third-down conversions in the first half and scored touchdowns on the first three possessions. Georgia held the Sooners to a field goal, then gave up a final first-half score when a wide-open Baker Mayfield snagged a 2-yard pass from CeeDee Lamb.

“I’m really disappointed and upset,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of the defensive performance. “I don’t think we played to the level we were capable of. I do think the players fought and they are a good offensive football team but man, we stunk it up and played really bad.”

Georgia held the Sooners scoreless in the third quarter. They gave up one touchdown in the fourth quarter (Oklahoma’s other score came when Steven Parker returned a Sony Michel fumble for a touchdown). In the second overtime time period, senior linebacker Lorenzo Carter blocked a field goal attempt. Georgia followed with the game-winning touchdown from Michel.

“I really just think the emotion in the players settled down and played with a little more discipline and a little more passion and energy,” Smart said. “It wasn’t like there was a magic sprinkle dust. We called the same defenses we called in the first half. We just played them better.”

There might not have been magic sprinkle dust, but there was a challenge.

“As players, we knew we had to call each other, look at each other man to man and say we didn’t want this to be our last 30 minutes together and went out there and fought,” senior linebacker Lorenzo Carter said.

Said Smart: “Our kids are so resilient. They never stopped chopping wood. They kept fighting. They believed. There were offensive players affecting defensive players in the lockerroom at halftime and they kept fighting. We didn’t play the way we were capable of, but the best news is we get a chance to play again.”

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