In the first half of Monday’s Rose Bowl matchup between Oklahoma and Georgia, the Sooners put on a masterful offensive performance in racing out to a 31-17 halftime lead. At the same time, nothing about the first two quarters suggested that OU could consistently stop the Bulldogs when they had the ball.
UGA needed an OU mistake or a good break to get back in the game. That’s really not asking for much in college football.
The Bulldogs got everything they needed and more in the third quarter. Once it had ended, all the good accomplished by the Sooners in the first 30 minutes had disappeared.
Such is life when you play defense like OU did this year. A month off before the program’s second College Football Playoff appearance couldn't cure all the ills that plagued the Sooner D: namely missed tackles and blown assignments.
You could point to Lincoln Riley’s tentative decision-making late in the game as OU’s downfall. Giving the Dawgs a three-point gift to end the first half didn’t help, either.
Still, the oddsmakers favored Georgia in this game for a reason. If nothing else, the Dawgs proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that they were a more complete squad than OU, including stellar play on special teams. More often than not, that team is going to win.
*Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney did a great job of crafting a game plan to make mincemeat of OU’s linebackers, whose dodgy play hamstrung the defense often throughout the season. Kenneth Murray and Emmanuel Beal frequently found themselves out of position against the run, and UGA’s runners repeatedly exploited their mistakes. Safety Will Johnson didn’t provide much help in run support.
In the end, the numbers were horrific: Excluding sacks, UGA ran for 10.5 yards per attempt. The Bulldogs might have won this game without attempting a pass.
*I’ll get into this in greater depth later, but OU’s lack of talent on defense continues to rear its head. The basic fundamentals remain as shoddy as ever.
*Baker Mayfield tended to lock in on tight end Mark Andrews on money downs all year. Kirby Smart and UGA defensive coordinator Mel Tucker clearly took notice and shaded coverage to Andrews in key spots throughout the game. That played a part in the offense’s struggles to convert on third down (seven of 18 attempts).
*It won’t get much play in the aftermath, but UGA’s kickoff strategy worked brilliantly. The Dawgs started skying their kicks in the second half to force returns. On average, the Sooners started inside their own 20 following kickoffs in the final two quarters.
It felt suffocating watching what seemed like an entire half play out on OU’s side of the field.
*My least favorite play call of the game: The QB option play to Kyler Murray in the second overtime. Just… Damn it. Why?
*Safety Steven Parker had an up-and-down career at OU, but he went out on a high note. His fumble return for a touchdown put the Sooners in position to win late. He also tallied a sack and six tackles.
Parker always seemed to play his best in important games. I suspect OU will really feel his loss on defense next year.
*Rodney Anderson played his ass off, but it surprised me that Riley didn’t call Trey Sermon’s number more. Thirty-four yards on two carries? That’s pretty good.
*Maybe a couple more throws CeeDee Lamb’s way, while we’re at it.
*I could beat up on Riley for getting too conservative in the second half, but plenty of others have already done that. I would note the yin to that yang is a nearly flawless first half that had the Sooners in position to win the game in the end.
I’m betting that the re-watch will show that much of what was open in the first half got closed off by the Georgia D in the third and fourth quarters.