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Kirby Smart stuffs Ryan Day into a locker as Georgia football shoves aside Ohio State | Toppmeyer

ATLANTA – Leadership forms the core of a college football coach’s duties. He must be comfortable in a CEO’s skin while heading an enterprise that includes more than a hundred players and dozens of coaches and staff members. The ability to identify and acquire talent forms another key arm of the job. Georgia won last season’s national championship with the nation’s most talented team.

But the best coaches are armed with more than leadership and salesmanship. Coaches who position their program to win back-to-back national titles also possess an instinct for the game.

Kirby Smart has that, and it’s thanks to Smart’s instincts that No. 1 Georgia is alive in the College Football Playoff and No. 4 Ohio State is eliminated after the Bulldogs rallied to a 42-41 victory Saturday in the Peach Bowl.

Sometimes teams win a game they probably should have lost, and sometimes teams lose a game they probably should have won.

And, sometimes, a team wins a game because its coach stuffs his adversary into a locker and slams the door shut.

That’s what happened at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Smart stole Ryan Day’s lunch money and bullied him right off the road to California. Now, Georgia (14-0) will try to become college football’s first back-to-back champion since Alabama’s 2011 and ’12 teams, while Day is 1-3 in CFP games.

Day had his Buckeyes prepared to face the nation’s final undefeated team. No question there. The Buckeyes are steeped in talent, and for three quarters, they resembled the better team. C.J. Stroud fired darts to Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, and OSU (11-2) led by 14 points in the fourth quarter.

Much will be made about Stetson Bennett IV being a gritty winner who shook off a rocky three-plus quarters to bring Georgia back from the brink and how a Bulldogs defense that had been tortured for most of the night delivered in the clutch.

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All true enough, but those narratives obfuscate the two biggest reasons Georgia prevailed:

No. 1, Ohio State’s offense didn’t pack the same punch after Harrison exited due to concussion protocol after absorbing a big hit from Javon Bullard late in the third quarter. Officials deemed the hit clean. No targeting. Is it any wonder why Bullard was named the game’s defensive MVP? His lick on Harrison had as much effect on the game’s outcome as any scoring play.

No. 2, Smart outcoached Day in the fourth quarter. Plain and simple. If it felt familiar, that’s because Jim Harbaugh outcoached Day in the final quarter of OSU’s loss to Michigan just more than a month ago.

Even without Harrison, Ohio State had an opportunity to land a knockout punch on Georgia midway through the fourth quarter.

On fourth-and-1 from OSU’s 34-yard line with nine minutes remaining, the Buckeyes put their punt unit on the field. Day called a fake-punt snap to up-man Mitch Rossi. Would have worked, too, except Smart detected the Buckeyes’ fishy formation – a tight alignment with just one lineman left of center. Smart called a timeout.

“They just were not in their traditional formation,” Smart explained. “… So, it was one of those gut reactions that I didn’t think that we had it lined up properly to stop it, so we called timeout.”

Cue the chess match.

What’s your next move, Day?

Passivity.

Rather than emerging from the timeout with his offense on the field, keeping the ball in Stroud’s hands and calling his best get-me-a-yard play, Day ordered a punt, the one of a few costly decisions.

Bennett hit Arian Smith for a 76-yard scoring strike on the first play of the ensuing possession.

Checkmate.

Ohio State’s defense continued to wilt. The Buckeyes brought no more than a four-man pass rush on five consecutive plays on Georgia’s final scoring drive. Bennett enjoyed the comfortable pocket to rip off five straight completions, including a touchdown.

Still, Ohio State regained possession with 54 seconds, needing a score and armed with the game’s best player. Stroud used his arm and legs to take the Buckeyes 44 yards in 26 seconds. The Buckeyes could keep the foot on the gas or play for a long field goal.

Day let four seconds drain off the clock before Georgia helped him and stopped the clock with a timeout.

And for the second time in this decisive quarter, Day took the ball out of the hands of his quarterback after a timeout. The Buckeyes had experienced little ground success all night, but Day called a run against a blitz. Georgia stuffed it for a 1-yard loss.

Any fan with good instincts will tell you to never trust a college kicker, but Day turtled up. He played for three when his quarterback had been cooking Georgia’s defense.

“Any couple yards right there could add to the field goal,” Day said, “and that was the idea.”

How’d that work out?

Georgia brought two more blitzes on the next two plays. When Stroud had time to operate Saturday, Georgia couldn’t handle him, and Smart’s instincts clearly told him he needed to crank the heat. The Bulldogs dropped just five defenders into coverage on OSU’s final offensive play and pressured Stroud out of the pocket. He threw the ball away.

And the Peach Bowl came down to a 50-yard field goal attempt by a kicker who never in his career had made a field goal from that distance.

He still hasn’t.

Afterward, Stroud took up for his coach.

“Coach Day called a helluva game,” he said. “Our game plan was superb.”

Indeed, OSU put Georgia on its heels for much of the night, but in too many pivotal moments, Stroud didn’t have the ball in his hands. He could only watch Noah Ruggles’ long field goal come nowhere near the mark.

Smart’s instincts were rewarded.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Also, check out his podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered, or access exclusive columns via the SEC Unfiltered newsletter.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Kirby Smart stuffs Ryan Day in locker, lifts Georgia football in rally


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