Bulldogs Top Bearcats, 24-21 in Peach Bowl Thriller
ATLANTA – Redshirt sophomore Jack Podlesny’s 53-yard field goal with three seconds remaining completed a remarkable 24-21 comeback victory for the ninth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (8-2, 7-2 SEC) over the eighth-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats (9-1, 6-0 AAC) Friday afternoon at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in front of 15,301 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and an ESPN television audience.
Trailing 21-10 entering the fourth quarter, Georgia posted 14 unanswered points in the final period to clinch the largest comeback of head coach Kirby Smart’s tenure in Athens.
Podlesny’s kick was the first game-winning field goal for Georgia since Rodrigo Blankenship’s 25-yarder to defeat Kentucky in 2016. It was also the third bowl-winning kick in program history and the longest game winner overall since Kevin Butler’s 60-yard boot against Clemson in 1984. For his efforts, Podlesny was named the Peach Bowl Offensive Player of the Game, becoming just the second place-kicker to earn the honor.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback JT Daniels piloted the Bulldogs with 392 yards on 26-for-38 passing with one touchdown and an interception, while sophomore wideout George Pickens notched 135 yards on seven receptions, giving him 100-plus yards in consecutive bowl games.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Azeez Ojulari earned Defensive Player of the Game honors with three sacks and two forced fumbles, tying the school record for sacks in a bowl game. Overall, the Bulldogs tied the school record for team sacks in a bowl with eight, matching the total set against Hawaii in the 2008 Sugar Bowl. Sophomore linebacker Nakobe Dean and junior linebacker Quay Walker led the Bulldogs with seven tackles apiece. Overall, Georgia held Cincinnati to 305 yards on offense, including just 107 in the second half.
Both teams’ defenses dominated early in the game, with Georgia punting on its first two possessions, although the second kick from junior Jake Camarda only traveled four yards. Starting on the Georgia 42-yard line, Cincinnati took advantage with the first scoring drive of the afternoon for either side as quarterback Desmond Ridder found receiver Alec Pierce for a 14-yard touchdown with 4:38 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs immediately responded with a diving 51-yard catch from Pickens on the first play of the ensuing drive, followed by a 12-yard rush from redshirt sophomore tailback Zamir White to enter the Bearcats’ red zone. Georgia was unable to convert however as Daniels was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Coby Bryant, who subsequently lost the ball on a Pickens punch-out and forced Cincinnati to begin its drive at its own 1-yard line.
After the Bearcats stalled in their end zone, the Bulldogs started their next drive near midfield and quickly capitalized as freshman tight end Darnell Washington rumbled into Cincinnati territory on a 38-yard catch-and-run. Washington’s gain allowed for Daniels to connect with Pickens on a 16-yard touchdown pass, tying the game just before the end of the first quarter with a 5-play, 44-yard scoring drive.
In the second quarter, Cincinnati methodically moved down the field, but a third down incompletion forced a 33-yard field goal attempt from place-kicker Cole Smith that missed wide left. On the very next play, Daniels connected with freshman wideout Arian Smith on a 55-yard pass to the Cincinnati 25-yard line. Nonetheless, the Bearcat defense held the Bulldogs out of the end zone and forced a 37-yard field goal from Podlesny, giving Georgia a 10-7 lead with 3:46 remaining before halftime.
Once again, Cincinnati steadily moved the ball, highlighted by a 25-yard third down completion from Ridder to wideout Michael Young. Despite losing left tackle James Hudson to a targeting ejection, Ridder found tight end Josh Whyle for an 11-yard touchdown catch with just six seconds left in the half, moving Cincinnati ahead at the break.
The Bearcats carried the momentum into the second half, extending their lead to 21-10 on a 79-yard touchdown run from tailback Jerome Ford on the second play from scrimmage. However, following the scoring run, Cincinnati would only amass 28 yards of offense for the remainder of the afternoon.
On the ensuing drive, Georgia slowed its tempo and worked into Cincinnati territory, overcoming third-and-17 with consecutive completions to redshirt sophomore tight end John FitzPatrick and Pickens. Despite the conversion, Daniels fumbled on a first down sack and gave the Bearcats the ball at their own 23-yard line. The Georgia defense stepped up on the following drive, sacking Ridder twice and quickly forcing a punt.
Opening with the ball on the Cincinnati 49-yard line, Georgia moved toward the red zone with a pair of offsides penalties, but a stalled drive led to an unsuccessful fourth-and-1 attempt as Daniels’ throw to sophomore wideout Kearis Jackson was broken up.
Early in the fourth quarter, Ojulari put Georgia back in the game with a strip-sack of Ridder, recovered by junior linebacker Adam Anderson at the Cincinnati 25-yard line. With renewed confidence, Daniels found FitzPatrick for a 16-yard completion, followed by a 9-yard touchdown run from White. Following a failed two-point attempt, the Bulldogs had cut the deficit to 21-16 with 13:20 to play.
On the subsequent drive, a three-and-out from the Georgia defense was negated after Cincinnati punter James Smith picked up a first down on a 9-yard fake punt run, but the Bearcats were unable to exploit the conversion. The Bulldogs appeared to be headed toward regaining the lead with back-to-back long completions to Jackson and Pickens, but a sack-fumble by Daniels forced a 32-yard field goal from Podlesny, bringing the margin to 21-19 following a 6-play, 61-yard sequence.
After both teams punted, Cincinnati had an opportunity to run out the clock, but on third-and-2, Ridder’s pass was batted away by sophomore cornerback Tyrique Stevenson and Georgia regained possession. Daniels moved the Bulldogs down the field on an 8-play, 44-yard scoring drive, culminating in Podlesny’s 53-yard field goal to seal the comeback victory. On the final play of the contest, Ojulari added one more sack to his tally, tacking on a safety that set the final margin, bookending the Georgia season with two-point scores.
Georgia will next take the field on Saturday, Sept. 4 for a matchup against the Clemson Tigers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.