Same state. Same Bulldogs (minus a few). Same outcome.
Maybe it was the absence of Deandre Baker, Georgia’s award-winning corner, who opted to miss the Sugar Bowl before the NFL Draft. Maybe it was the absence of D’Andre Walker, a late scratch for the fifth-ranked Bulldogs (11-3) who Kirby Smart said he would use “situationally” in the days leading up to the game. Or Jordan Davis, Georgia’s freshman defensive lineman with 25 tackles on the year.
Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. Because no. 15 Texas (10-3) came out looking like a team with something to prove, while the Bulldogs barely mustered a whimper in a game that, for what seemed like the first time in ages, their fans were not in the majority.
Bevo’s short-lived charge on Uga before the game was just the appetizer.
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In the end, it was Sam Ehlinger lighting up the stat book. Not Jake Fromm, after a career-best performance against Alabama a month earlier. The Longhorns’ Super Bowl was, in fact, the Bulldogs’ Independence Bowl. It showed, as the 28-21 final wasn’t nearly indicative of just how dominant the Longhorns were on a dark, foggy night in the French Quarter.
“They played more physical than us, and it showed to me that they wanted it more than we did,” Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart said. “And you’ve got to give them credit for that. ... (Ehlinger) really hurt us. We missed tackles and didn’t finish on him defensively. And then we weren’t really able to run the ball like we like to consistently, and give Texas credit (for that).”
Ehlinger, the Longhorns’ dual-threat quarterback dealing with his own injury, showed little sign of pain. Any doubt he’d be hindered was gone after the game’s opening drive, which he capped with a two-yard touchdown scramble. It was 17-0 faster than the Redcoat Band could make it to its seats, thanks to another Ehlinger scramble — this from nine yards out — and a Cameron Dicker field goal.
The 20-7 halftime score, really, didn’t do Texas enough credit. Because it could have been much, much worse.
Fromm’s interception on the Bulldogs’ opening second-half drive proved that. He actually had a man streaking open behind the Longhorn secondary, but threw off his foot and right into the hands of P.J. Locke III. And it didn’t get much better from there.
“Our No. 1 goal coming to New Orleans to participate in the Sugar Bowl was to win the game,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “We weren’t just happy being here. We were going to win the game, and we were going to do everything that it took to win it.”
A nightmare start
It took less than 15 minutes for the Bulldogs to find themselves in a 17-0 hole.
The Longhorns drove 75 yards in just 10 plays on their opening possession, then six yards (after Swift’s fumble) on their next. Then 12 yards for a touchdown, after Jake Camarda’s knee hit the ground before he got the punt off.
A two-score game at halftime, ultimately, meant little for a Bulldogs team that couldn’t score points nor keep the Longhorns from scoring. Ehlinger iced the game in the fourth quarter, scoring a quarterback sneak from a yard out and following with a back-shoulder throw to Collin Johnson for the two-point conversion.
For Georgia, the exact opposite:
The Bourbon Street hangover was all too real for Georgia’s offense.
The Bulldogs entered New Year’s Day averaging just over 39 points per game, but mustered just seven in the game’s first three quarters and 14 for the game. Those Tom Herman comments before the game that sent UGA fans into a frenzy — that Georgia’s run game was not “anything too formidable” — were certainly backed up by his team’s defense.
The Bulldogs finished with less than 100 rushing yards, including two Swift fumbles. Fromm didn’t fare much better.
“We pride ourselves in our own physicality,” Herman said. “At this point in our program, that is how we’re going to win games. That is always how we are going to win games.”
Fromm’s fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman felt like a consolation score, despite bringing the Bulldogs back within two scores.
Ehlinger shines in the House of Brees
Facing fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, everyone in Mercedes-Benz Superdome knew what would happen.
Out of the shotgun, Sam Ehlinger took the snap and bolted forward, lowering his shoulder as he crossed the line of scrimmage. Had his knee hit the ground a split-second earlier, the Bulldogs would’ve taken over. Instead, it was Ehlinger and the Longhorns that could celebrate the game-clinching score.
The Bulldogs knew it was coming in that situation, but they couldn’t stop it. Same goes for most of the night, really.
“He’s a good quarterback,” said Bulldogs defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter. “Can’t take that away from him. He threw touchdowns, and he’s good running. He’s a running back that can throw the ball. We didn’t contain. We didn’t have a level pass rush most of the time. And we didn’t get him on the ground. When you don’t do that, he makes plays.”
Ehlinger tore the Bulldogs defense apart, throwing for 144 yards and running for another 64. His three touchdowns all came on the ground, and his favorite target, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, hauled in five balls for 45 yards.
Similar to the likes of LSU’s Joe Burrow and Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, Ehlinger opened the field up with his legs, and slammed the door shut on Georgia’s season.