There were many great storylines to emerge from Georgia's 54-48 double overtime win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. The Bulldogs rallied from 17 points, pulling off the greatest comeback in Rose Bowl history. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were off to the races and into the history books with their stellar performances.
Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm had a clutch third-down throw on what would be a game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. And, of course, this win gives Georgia a chance to play for a national championship against Alabama next Monday.
But the greatest story from this game came in a span of six seconds on the game clock. And it came into fruition from a heady reserve linebacker, a coaching staff adjusting on the fly and a place-kicker who would go on to set a Rose Bowl record for the longest field goal ever made in the long history of the postseason game.
With six seconds to play in the first half, and with Oklahoma leading 31-14, the Sooners elected to squib kick it. As special teams coordinator Shane Beamer said, the first rule for the front line of the kick return team is to not let the ball bounce off of you in squib kick situations. The priority is to not touch it so that the other team can't recover a live ball.
When this squib kick occurred, inside linebacker Tae Crowder, right in the middle of the front line, saw the ball coming near his way. The ball also had plenty of speed coming with it. Reacting quickly, Crowder reached his arms out and snatched the ball into his grasp. Thinking on the spot, Crowder then fell to the ground, with the clock only wasting one second of time.
Beamer described it as an "unbelievable" play.
"It came pretty fast," Crowder said. "I looked, and once I saw it in the air, I just went and attacked it with my hands. It came pretty fast but I saw it."
But this is also something the coaches don't teach. Crowder reacted purely on instinct. It gave Georgia the ball at the 50-yard line and a chance to turn a three-score deficit down to two.
However, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was already on his way down to the locker room from the coaches' box, which is where he calls plays from. Chaney, like the rest of the Georgia coaching staff, thought Oklahoma would kick the ball deep, even though it has shown a tendency to rely on the squib kick before. With Chaney on an elevator down to the locker room, the on-field offensive coaches convened with head coach Kirby Smart to discuss what play to call with five seconds to go.
"We got together with the offensive staff and Kirby, and just figured out what we wanted to do on that first down play," Beamer said. "We ran a little sprint-out, got the ball to Terry (Godwin) on the sideline."
Georgia was able to call a timeout with one second left.
The completion from Jake Fromm to Godwin went for nine yards and gave place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship a chance to attempt a 55-yard field goal. Coming into the game, Blankenship told student assistant Kevin Butler that he felt his range was up to 54 yards. This would be just one yard longer than that.
The whole scenario caught Blankenship slightly off guard. Like everyone else on Georgia's sideline, he assumed Oklahoma would kick it deep. When he suddenly heard on the sideline that Crowder made a play on a squib, he realized he might be called on for a long field goal try.
"When they hit that kick, I was like, 'Wait, what just happened?' " Blankenship said. "They said, 'He squibbed it right at him and Tae got it clean.' I thought we might have a shot for a field goal here."
Blankenship, who missed a 48-yard attempt earlier in the game, boomed the attempt from 55 yards out through the uprights. It was the longest field goal of his career. It trimmed Oklahoma's lead at the half to 31-17.
"It was a huge kick by Rod," Beamer said. "It was a little bit out of his range with what we had talked about going into the game where his range was. But a big-time kick by him, especially after missing that first one early in the game."
Given the game went to double overtime, that sequence proved to be one of the most pivotal of the game.
With the star power on Georgia's roster, Crowder became an unlikely hero. The Harris County product came to Georgia as a running back and switched to linebacker in the middle of the 2016 season. He has been a backup and special teams contributor this year with little limelight.
But here he was, on New Year's Day making one of the most important plays in a game that sent Georgia to the national championship.
"It just shows heart," Crowder said. "I trust the process, I trust the coaches. They know I come out and work hard every day."