PASADENA, Calif. — Baker Mayfield spent a little extra time walking the Rose Bowl field, with the massive eucalyptus trees and San Gabriel Mountains peering over the stadium wall at him during his final collegiate moment.
He was looking for Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm.
“I told him to go win the whole thing,” Mayfield said.
Oklahoma and its star quarterback were forced to grit their teeth and congratulate a counterpart that never stopped punching Saturday in Pasadena, following a game the Sooners knew could have easily gone their way.
Georgia running back Sony Michel took a direct snap 27 yards for a touchdown in the second overtime, lifting the No. 3 Bulldogs 54-48 past No. 2 Oklahoma in a wild College Football Playoff semifinal.
It was a fitting end considering the game’s complex make-up. There were five ties, three lead changes and two forced turnovers in the Rose Bowl’s first overtime game ever.
For OU, it was the sourest of finishes.
A series before Georgia’s final score, OU kicker Austin Seibert had a 27-yard field goal attempt blocked.
Georgia (13-1) drove its victory home with one last mighty run, part of a ground game that compiled 317 yards and lived up to its brute reputation. Michel’s game-clinching jaunt was the Bulldogs’ seventh of more than 20 yards all game.
OU (12-2) was left to scratch its head about what might have been after missing an opportunity to reach the national championship for the first time since 2008.
The Sooners led by 17 points in the first half and racked up 360 offensive yards, but they compiled just 29 yards in the third quarter as Georgia roared to its first lead.
“We just didn’t play well early in the second half,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said.
OU rallied late in the fourth quarter, with Mayfield tying the score on a nifty 11-yard pass to fullback Dimitri Flowers.
Senior safety Steven Parker scooped a 46-yard fumble return for a touchdown, but OU surrendered another scoring drive that forced overtime.
Its defense held Georgia to a field goal on overtime’s first series, and OU’s Austin Seibert forced another period when he nailed a 33-yard attempt.
But Riley waffled over a decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from Georgia’s 16-yard line. A first down would have greatly helped OU’s chances of winning.
How close was Riley to pulling the trigger?
“I was close. I had a lot of confidence in Austin, like I have the second half of the season. We’d just held them to a field goal, defensively. I don’t know. My gut said kick it and he made it,” Riley said.
It was Riley’s first overtime game since he took over as head coach. He was faced with plenty of decisions, namely finding the right play calls to dice Georgia’s stiffening defense, after OU’s scoring attack had gone stale after a hot first half.
Riley tried everything, incorporating option passes and even inserting backup quarterback Kyler Murray into the backfield in those situations.
Some worked, some didn’t. Georgia entered with the nation’s No. 2 passing defense, and that unit finally engaged after intermission.
“I’m sure if I look back on it, there will be calls I wish could’ve gone differently,” Riley said. “I called plays that at the time, I thought were the very best. Are there ones I want back? Yes. But I’m not gonna dwell on ‘em. You call enough plays, you’ll call some bad ones.”
OU finished with 531 total yards, but managed just a single field goal in the final two extra periods. Mayfield was sacked five times for the game.
The redshirt senior was 23-of-35 passing for 287 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in his final collegiate outing. He also caught a touchdown on a trick play near the first half’s end.
Mayfield battled flu-like symptoms all week but said he felt fine.
“Just, quite frankly, I missed throws. I didn’t make the throws I normally make, and it showed,” he said.
Georgia averaged 9.3 yards per carry and totaled 527 yards offense, the most OU has surrendered since Nov. 4 at Oklahoma State.
Michel (181 yards, 3 TDs) and Nick Chubb (145 yards, 2 TDs) were good as advertised. They had four runs of 35 yards or more. Michel ripped off a 75-yarder in the second quarter, and Chubb scored from 50 yards on Georgia’s first play of the second half.
“They’re gonna make plays, you know. There’s only so much you can do. There’s a reason they’re here. They play Division I football, too,” OU senior defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said.
There were no easy explanations afterward. OU had chances to advance past the semis but never could clutch them long enough.
Mayfield’s era ended and, for once, he was at a loss for words.
He choked up at the podium and had to shorten his answer when asked about his emotions.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” Mayfield said. “It’s been a wild ride.”