He had been excellent all game, the senior running back. The first three times he touched the ball, he gained 108 total yards and scored two touchdowns. It was the kind of game that could define his career.
Then, when he could least afford to, he fumbled for the first time this season. The running back would redeem himself. He would cap the best game of his career. He would send Georgia to the national championship game with a 54-48 double-overtime victory over Oklahoma in Monday’s Rose Bowl.
“I had no doubt he was going to come back and do what he did,” freshman running back D’Andre Swift said.
He didn’t play much in the first half. When he touched the ball for the third time, Georgia trailed 21-7. It was the beginning of the second quarter. The game threatened to slip from Georgia’s loosening grip.
Then, the running back from Plantation, Florida, took a handoff from quarterback Jake Fromm and ran 75 yards for a touchdown, tying the longest carry of his career. He surpassed 1,000 rushing yards on the season with the run, giving Georgia two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time.
“I don't know what quarter, I told him, 'You got it right now. You got to keep going, keep running,’ ” said running back Nick Chubb, the other of the team's 1,000 rushers.
Now, fast forward to the final minute of the third quarter. Afternoon had become evening, and Georgia trailed by a touchdown. Georgia’s defense, porous in the first half, had not let Oklahoma advance past midfield in the third quarter. Here was a chance to tie a game the Bulldogs had once trailed by 17 points.
Standing in the backfield, the running back frantically motioned to Fromm. He wanted to ensure he understood what the play was. The back shifted to Fromm’s left side. Fromm took the snap and handed him the ball. An opening appeared in the right side of Oklahoma’s defense. A few seconds later, the running back scored. Tie game.
“The most explosive player I know,” outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said.
Georgia would score again. So would Oklahoma. With just under nine minutes remaining in the game, Georgia’s offense took possession of the ball. Four plays later, the running back had his first turnover of the season.
On a run to the outside, while fighting for more yardage, the Michel fumbled. Oklahoma’s Steven Parker scooped up the ball and ran untouched to the end zone, giving the Sooners a 45-38 lead.
“He obviously made up for it in overtime,” Chubb said.
Chubb, who rushed for 145 yards, scored the second of his two touchdowns with 55 seconds remaining in regulation. Georgia’s defense forced a punt, sending the game to overtime for the first time in Rose Bowl history. The running back would have a chance to make up for his mistake.
After the teams exchanged field goals, Carter blocked Oklahoma’s field goal attempt. Two plays into Georgia’s possession of the second overtime, the senior running back took an outside handoff and scored, atoning for his earlier mistake and giving Georgia a chance to win its first national championship since the 1980 season.
“When I scored a touchdown I knew it was over,” the running back said. “We finally get a chance to play for something big.”
Even though he had scored four touchdowns and racked up 222 total yards, he, at first, wasn’t named the Rose Bowl's offensive MVP.
For a minute, the honor went to Chubb. Then a correction was made. Announced over the loudspeakers for all to hear, a new offensive MVP was declared.
His name: Sony Michel.