Their collaborative performance upstaged Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, this season’s Heisman winner, who was intermittently outstanding following a week of intense scrutiny over his dealing with flulike symptoms.
Mayfield was limited in practice and skipped Rose Bowl-related social and media activities. But as the game approached, he tried to dispel any notion that his energy remained sapped, dashing down the field just before kickoff while shouting and waving his arms to incite the Oklahoma side in the sea of red that made up the Rose Bowl crowd.
Perhaps he was simply loosening up his throwing arm and his play-calling voice, as well as the vocal cords of Sooners supporters, who had plenty to cheer for in the first half. Their roars peaked when Mayfield caught a pass, his first in college, at the tail end of a double reverse for a 2-yard touchdown that gave Oklahoma (12-2) a 31-14 lead.
Illness? What illness?
Oklahoma, deploying a huddle-free, quick-strike offense, scored on five of its six possessions in the half. Rodney Anderson made it into the end zone on runs of 9 and 41 yards. Mayfield connected on a 13-yard pass to Marquise Brown for the game’s first touchdown.
Even in victory, the 31 first-half points allowed by Georgia left a sour taste with Smart, a former defensive coordinator now in his second season as head coach.
“I’m really disappointed and upset,” Smart said. “Man, we stunk it up and played really bad.”
But after Mayfield’s touchdown reception with six seconds left before halftime, a botched squib kick enabled Georgia to squeeze in a 55-yard field goal before the break.
“That probably gave them a little juice,” Oklahoma Coach Lincoln Riley said, though he expressed no regret over the call.
Georgia displayed a rapid-response offense of its own, albeit of a different style, scoring on one-play drives with runs of 75 yards (Michel) and 50 (Chubb). Michel’s long run concluded a scoring frenzy at the start of the game that featured five touchdowns in the first 16 minutes.
The Bulldogs made some effective defensive tweaks at halftime, which led to Mayfield’s dusting himself off frequently after getting sacked.
Smart noted some alignment changes but attributed most of the transformation to his tacklers’ simply being more aggressive. “It wasn’t like it was magic sprinkled dust,” he said.
Georgia made hay of the Sooners’ stalled offense and eventually pulled in front by 38-31 with Jake Fromm’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Javon Wims — a short drive set up by Dominick Sanders’ interception of Mayfield.
Riley, asked if he had any regrets from the game, said: “How we played there coming out of halftime. We just didn’t put our best foot forward.”
Oklahoma finally found the end zone again with 8:47 left in the fourth quarter, as Mayfield ran and threw his team back into a tie on an 11-yard toss to Dimitri Flowers.
The Sooners took one more lead in regulation on a 46-yard fumble return by Steven Parker with just under 7 minutes remaining, but Chubb scored on a direct snap from 2 yards out with 55 seconds left to force overtime.
The teams swapped field goals on their first possessions of the extra period, then Lorenzo Carter of Georgia blocked Austin Seibert’s attempt on Oklahoma’s second drive. When they got the ball back, the Bulldogs called a direct snap for Michel, who dashed into the end zone to send him, Chubb and their teammates to one final bowl this season.
For the Sooners, it was a wrenching end to a remarkable season. Mayfield avoided using his health as an excuse after the game.
“I felt fine,” he said, a raspy voice partly belying his statement. “Quite frankly, I just missed throws.”
Mayfield’s 66 percent accuracy was only 4 points below his career rate at Oklahoma, yet he failed to connect with a few unmarked receivers. An apparent interception in overtime was negated by penalty.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” Mayfield said, choking back tears. “It’s been a wild ride.”
Riley, the youngest head coach in F.B.S. at age 33, said he had pondered during the first overtime whether to seek a first down at 4th-and-1 from the Georgia 16.
“It was close,” he said. “I went back and forth on it. My gut said to kick it.”
He opted for the safer choice, and moments later he and his team had been defeated. As confetti rained down on the field, an announcement in the press box identified the game’s most valuable offensive player as Chubb.
Then came an update: The recipient had been switched to Michel.
Either way, the award would be displayed in their joint residence, one more shared experience.