ATLANTA (AP) — Quarterback C.J. Stroud and No. 4 Ohio State came up just short, and this one has to hurt.
“They’re a good team, but I don’t think there’s one guy in that locker room that thinks we shouldn’t have won the game,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said. “That’s the part of this thing that’s going to sit in our stomachs for a long time.”
After dominating No. 1 Georgia for most of the first three quarters, the Buckeyes ended their season early Sunday with a second straight loss. The first one, to archrival Michigan on Nov. 26, was bad enough, but the sting of dropping a national semifinal 42-41 in the Peach Bowl after leading the Bulldogs by 14 in the fourth quarter must feel worse.
The Buckeyes led 41-35 in the closing minute when Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett engineered a 76-yard, five-play drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Adonai Mitchell, who beat Denzel Burke in the left corner of the end zone for a one-point lead.
But it wasn’t until Noah Ruggles’ 50-yard field-goal try, a career-long attempt for the fifth-year graduate student, sailed well left that Ohio State (11-2) had its fate sealed.
Stroud refused to put any blame on Ruggles, who hit a 48-yarder to push the lead to 41-35 with 2:43 remaining.
“I just try to leave it all on the line. I honestly — games like this leave me at a loss for words — it comes down to one play, but obviously it doesn’t come down to one play,” Stroud said. “So many things line up to those plays. That last drive, I saw how much time we had left and how many timeouts and I knew that we could do it and I tried my hardest to get us down there.”
Stroud completed 23 of 34 passes for 348 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He scrambled 27 yards to give Ohio State a first down at the Georgia 31 in the closing seconds, but the Buckeyes couldn’t get any closer as Ruggles came on to attempt the kick.
“It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win, though, and I think that’s what hurts the most,” Day said. “You put that much work in and that much energy and that much time into something and you’re right there and you don’t get the victory — this is a performance business and you win or you lose.
“We lost the game, and that’s what hurts to the core. And that’s what it is. We’re here to win and it didn’t happen. In the end we came up short.”
Stroud did as he pleased much of the night with little pressure coming from Georgia’s defensive front. He showed why he ranks in the top five among FBS quarterbacks in touchdowns, pass efficiency, yards per attempt and yards per completion.
But Ohio State ultimately couldn’t keep Bennett and the Bulldogs down, and the Buckeyes took a hit when receiving leader Marvin Harrison Jr. suffered a concussion in the third quarter and didn’t return. Tight end Cade Stover was hurt in the first half and had to go to a local hospital to get treated for back spasms.
“We had the mindset that we were going to fight as hard as we can,” Stroud said. “I feel like we did that. We were very efficient in the pass game and the in the run game, we started growing a little bit. We had a lot of positive runs, and I feel like we were very efficient.
“Just a couple of those drives where I missed a read or the protection broke down or I got a sack, whatever the case may be, maybe those are the reason we lost the game.”
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