Georgia Bulldogs kick off 2021 by winning a Peach Bowl thriller

Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis, center, blocks the Cincinnati field goal attempt by Cole Smith (17) during the first half in the NCAA college football Peach Bowl game on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

The first college football game of 2021 provided a peachy treat indeed.

Jack Podlesny's 53-yard field goal with three seconds remaining catapulted Georgia to a 22-21 lead over Cincinnati, and Azeez Ojulari's third sack and second caused fumble resulted in a final-play safety as the No. 9 Bulldogs downed the No. 8 Bearcats 24-21 Friday afternoon at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Georgia was without four starters who decided to opt out of the matchup, but Ojulari's decision to play wound up spoiling Cincinnati's hopes of completing an undefeated season as the American Athletic Conference champions.

"It was important for me just to make sure the seniors go out the right way," Georgia's redshirt sophomore outside linebacker said. "It was their last game, and they worked so hard in this unpredictable season. I got the opportunity to play another game, so I took advantage of it."

Georgia's defense held the Bearcats scoreless for the final 29 minutes and 11 seconds, which enabled Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels enough opportunities to rally the offense from a 21-10 deficit. Daniels completed 26 of 38 attempts for 392 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and his 15-yard pass to George Pickens and connections of 10 and 11 yards to running back Kenny McIntosh enabled the Bulldogs to move 44 yards in eight plays to set up Podlesny's big boot.

When informed that his kick was his longest to win a Georgia game since legendary Kevin Butler's memorable 60-yarder against Clemson in 1984, Podlesny said, "That's pretty cool."

The Bulldogs improved to 8-2 in what turned out to be their first 10-game season since 1970, while the Bearcats wound up 9-1.

"People try to take shots at their conference and their level of play," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said, "but they've got a really, really good quality football team with a lot of seniors."

Georgia wound up outgaining Cincinnati 449-305.

photo Georgia kicker Jack Podlesny (96) reacts to his game-winning 53-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in the game to beat Cincinnati 24-21 in the NCAA college football Peach Bowl game on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Cincinnati had the ball at its 20-yard line with 2:59 remaining and picked up a first down that resulted in the Bulldogs burning their timeouts, but the Bearcats had a couple of snaps with decent time remaining on the play clock and threw incomplete on third-and-2 from their 40 before punting it away.

"We're not going to go back wondering and trying to play the wishing and wanting game," Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said. "We're going to be aggressive. We are going to go and give our guys an opportunity. There are a lot of different things we could do when you go by hindsight, but we are going to play to win."

Jerome Ford, the former Alabama running back, broke free for a 79-yard touchdown run 49 seconds into the third quarter to give the Bearcats their stunning 21-10 lead. Ford actually had a 37-yard rushing score inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the Crimson Tide's 42-3 rout of Duke in last season's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

Following Ford's score, the Bulldogs marched 71 yards in 11 plays to Cincinnati's 18-yard line before losing the possession on a Daniels sack and fumble, and then they drove 24 yards in six plays to the 25 of the Bearcats before losing the ball on downs when Daniels threw incomplete on fourth-and-1 to Kearis Jackson.

Georgia's rejuvenation occurred with Ojulari's sack and strip of Desmond Ridder with 14:01 remaining, which gave the Bulldogs possession at the Cincinnati 25-yard line. The Bulldogs scored two plays later on Zamir White's 9-yard run to pull within 21-16.

The Bulldogs needed two plays on their ensuing possession to travel 65 yards to Cincinnati's 10, but they stalled from there and had to settle on Podlesny's 32-yard field goal that made it a 21-19 game.

Podlesny's first field goal of the game occurred from 37 yards out and gave Georgia its first lead of the game at 10-7 with 3:46 before halftime, but the Bulldogs left the Bearcats with too much clock. Ridder overcame a personal-foul targeting penalty on left tackle James Hudson by scrambling around before finding tight end Josh Whyle for an 11-yard touchdown connection and a 14-10 lead with six seconds remaining.

"Coming into halftime, we said that we had to contain the quarterback because he was running around making plays," Bulldogs sophomore inside linebacker Nakobi Dean said. "We knew he was a good player coming in, but in the second half, we got on him."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.