January 1st has come and gone and the 2017-18 college football season is all over but for one final game. And while yesterday was perhaps the best day of the year for college football fans, today is one of the worst. Today we’re forced to deal with the bowl season hangover. January 2nd is about coming to the harsh realization that college football is not on all day like it has been for weeks. It is not only a stark contrast, but also a brutal comedown to the reality that the season is basically over. But all excitement is not lost. Not by a long shot. The electricity of yesterday’s semi-final games will surely make for an Outstanding CFP final. I, for one, could not be more excited to see an an all SEC Final. In Alabama and Georgia, we have a matchup of two teams that were ranked #1 and #2 for much of the season. And after yesterday, there should be no doubt that these are truly two of the best teams in country. But before we even begin to start overanalyzing that matchup, lets take a look back at how we got here.
Let me first start off by apologizing for not writing up a preview for these matchups. That being said, these games panned out as I expected for the most part (see my picks blog). Being that the Rose Bowl was the far more entertaining game, I’ll naturally be spending far more time talking about that. Before everyone freaks out, I am by no means saying that I foresaw a 54-48 overtime game in the Rose Bowl. That was an unpredictable rollercoaster ride of a football game, and truly one of the greatest spectacles I’ve witnessed. Nor will I pretend I was incredibly confident in my Georgia pick, especially after the first half. However, the nature in which these teams played is something I saw coming.
In the lead up to this game, much was made of the matchup between Oklahoma’s offense and Georgia’s defense. Many would have surmised that if Oklahoma was able to put up 30+ points they’d likely be in control of this game. Yet this is not the way I saw it, and it was not the way things panned out. In my estimation, Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma’s high octane offense were never going to be denied, even by one the best defenses in the country. Nevertheless, I always believed Oklahoma could put up more than 30 and still potentially lose this game by a touchdown or more. I came to this conclusion because of the lopsided matchup between Georgia’s rushing attack and Oklahoma’s defense. Quite simply, the Bulldogs were able to get whatever they wanted in the run game. My intuition was that a porous big 12 defense simply would not be able to stop the best backfield in the country. Far, far better defenses have tried and failed. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb ran riot on the Sooners all game just as I thought. That in combination with an incredibly poised display from freshman quarterback Jake Fromm spelled defeat for the Sooners. I give all the credit in the world to Baker Mayfield, Rodney Anderson, and the rest of the Sooner’s offense for hanging 48 points and 531 yards of total offense on Georgia’s vaunted defense. The significant disadvantage this team had on the defensive side of the ball eventually just proved to be too much to overcome.
By now I’ve tooted my own horn enough, and talked at nauseam about the individual matchups of this game. What made this game incredible were not the X’s and O’s, but rather the theatrics and unbridled emotion. I could try to lie and say I was steadfast in my faith in the Dawgs, but there were so many momentum shifts in this game, and so many occasions where both teams looked destined to win. In the first half Baker Mayfield and Rodney Anderson were cutting up Georgia’s defense at will.
As an illustration of how dominant they looked, The Sooner’s scored each of the first four drives, with the first three being touchdowns. In the first two quarters, running back Rodney Anderson racked up over 100 yards on the ground along with 2 touchdowns. As the clock began to wind down, the Sooner’s look to be firmly in the driver seat at 31-14. That is until a botched squib kick set the dawgs up with great field position that lead to a 55 yard field goal from Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship to bring the score to 31-17. Oklahoma coach Coach Lincoln Riley will likely have nightmares about that squib, as the momentum swung to the Bulldogs in the second half.
As I alluded to, the second half was entirely different story than the first. Georgia’s defense made successful adjustments and were able to stifle the Sooners completely until midway through the fourth quarter. I’d be remiss in not mentioning that All American and Butkus award winning linebacker Roquan Smith was everywhere making plays for the Bulldogs in the second half. But during this period of the game, Georgia’s offense was equally as successful as their defense. The Bulldogs pounded the Sooners on the ground and long touchdown runs from Sony Michel and Nick Chubb changed the landscape of this game.
By the beginning of the third quarter, Georgia scored 24 unanswered points to eventually take the lead 38-31. At this point, anyone with a brain would have bet the house on the Bulldogs as they had seemingly figured out Oklahoma on both offense and defense. Yet this game still had many twists and turns yet to come. An unexpected scoop and score from Oklahoma’s defense after a fumble from the usually sure-handed Sony Michel, put the Sooners back in this game.
Furthermore, A clutch touchdown pass from Baker Mayfield on the Sooners next drive put them back in command with a 45-38 lead. It was at this point that Freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm showed amazing maturity leading the dawgs down the field on a clutch drive that culminated in a Nick Chubb touchdown to tie the game. But with time remaining on the clock I, like many, feared that Georgia left to much time on the clock for Baker Mayfield. A game winning field goal seemed inevitable. Yet it was not to be for the Sooners, as Georgia came up with the stop to force overtime. It is interesting to note the play-calling on that drive, as Oklahoma didn’t really seem to let Baker Mayfield loose. Seeing how things panned out in overtime, Oklahoma may regret that series.
This year’s Rose Bowl marked the first time that College Football playoff game has ever gone to overtime. But one overtime would not be enough. After trading field goals in the first overtime, Baker Mayfield and the Sooners again found themselves stopped on third down. Forced to settle for another field goal, things were already looking bleak for Oklahoma. Things went from bad to worse for the Sooners as star linebacker Lorenzo Carter leaped through the line the block Austin Seibert’s attempt.
This was no doubt the beginning of the end for Oklahoma. However, the block proved inconsequential as Sony Michel put the exclamation point on this game exploding for a 25 yard touchdown run to win it. This capped off a back and forth game that will go down as one of the best all time.
The pageantry of the Rose Bowl is always something special. When you add into the mix how this game played out and the fact that this game actually meant something, it’s easy to see why it will go down as one of the greatest football games of all time. (And no that is not an over reaction). It was a tough way to see Baker Mayfield to end his remarkable college career, but I do believe the better team won here. That being said, the point that Mayfield and Oklahoma may match up better against Alabama may be a valid one. At any the rate, the Bulldogs deservedly stamped their ticket home to Georgia for the National Championship.
In a much less exciting game, the Tide absolutely battered the tigers to win 24-6. It would be an impossible task to follow that Rose Bowl game, but the third chapter of the Alabama Clemson playoff rivalry certainly failed to live up to its billing. The game marketed as the exhilarating rubber match between Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney was decidedly one sided. Despite the fact that the score was close until midway through the third quarter, it never really felt like Clemson was in this one. For those of you surprised by Alabama’s dominance, there’s a reason the Tide opened as betting favorites. For those of you who thought Alabama didn’t belong in the top four, I told you so (and so did anyone with brain). Losing to Auburn does not mean you’re not a top team; as both of our CFP finalists will tell you. But anyone who thinks Ohio State would have fared the same against Clemson is sorely mistaken.
Clemson is undoubtedly a great team and finished the season ranked number one for a reason. They also annihilated the Buckeyes in last year’s semi finals. I can already hear the people in Columbus saying, “But Jim that was with DeShaun Watson”. Admittedly, that’s a valid point. It was the absence of Deshaun Watson that allowed the Tide to dominate the Tigers. Watson passed for 400+ yards and was responsible for 4 TDs in each of his meetings with Alabama. In comparison, Kelly Bryant and the 2018 Tigers managed only 188 yards of total offense and zero touchdowns. Bryant is not yet the best pocket passer and that undoubtedly was a huge factor in their defeat. But lets not forget, he was going up against the number one ranked defense in Alabama. When you think about that his 2 interceptions become more understandable.
Nevertheless, what may be even more important was the fact that you cannot run the ball against Alabama’s defense. The only one to do so successfully this year was Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson. Alabama’s defense year in and year out is the best in the country. They don’t need to put up Big 12 numbers on offense to beat you by three scores. This team has defensive tackles like Da’Ron Payne athletic enough to line up as receivers for crying out loud.
As a general rule thumb, no one can run the ball against Alabama, so no one can beat them. Without an out of this world performance from a running back or quarterback, you will not beat Alabama. Every time the tide have lost, it has been on the back of an immaculate individual performance (ie: Kerryon Johnson, Ezekiel Elliot, DeShaun Watson, Johnny Manziel, Chad Kelly). Neither Clemson nor Ohio State have the tools to pull that off with their current roster. The bottom line is that Alabama is just about the only team in the country that could do that to a number one ranked Clemson team. If you don’t believe the Tide are one of the best four teams in country, you’re either biased, in denial, or have brain damage. I’m looking at you Danny Kanell and Joel Klatt. In the SEC, “It just means more”. That’s why they have two teams in the CFP finals this year.