ATLANTA — Sony Michel wouldn't give up after a devastating lost fumble, and his resolve helped lift Georgia to within one win of its first national championship in almost four decades.
Michel's teammates also wouldn't give up in Monday's double-overtime 54-48 Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma. The win sends the Bulldogs to the national championship game against Alabama.
"They say adversity kind of reveals character," Smart said. "I think it exposes character, for sure. We found out we've got a pretty good character team."
That character in the College Football Playoff semifinal has No. 3 Georgia (13-1) heading back to Atlanta, where last month it won its first Southeastern Conference championship since 2005 by beating Auburn. On Monday another matchup of SEC teams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will decide the national championship.
Smart, the former longtime defensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama, has Georgia on the verge of its first national title since 1980.
The key to the 1980 team was the addition of freshman running back Herschel Walker. This Georgia team made the most of the decisions by some top players, including running backs Nick Chubb and Michel and linebacker Lorenzo Carter, to return for their senior seasons.
Carter blocked a 27-yard field goal attempt by Austin Seibert in the second overtime, setting the stage for Michel's game-winning, 27-yard touchdown run.
Michel had to bounce back from a lost fumble in the fourth quarter that was returned for the Sooners' go-ahead touchdown.
Georgia vs. Oklahoma: Bulldogs walk off as Rose Bowl winners in double overtime thriller
Michel took advantage of his opportunity to make up for the fumble when he was given the ball in the second overtime. He was swarmed by his teammates after the touchdown run.
"When I scored a touchdown, I knew it was over," he said. "We finally get a chance to play for something big."
Georgia leaned on its strength, its running game, to beat Oklahoma. The Bulldogs had 317 yards rushing, including 181 by Michel, to finally beat the high-scoring Oklahoma offense led by Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. Michel also scored on a 75-yard run in the second quarter, a 38-yard run in the third quarter and a 13-yard pass from Jake Fromm in the first quarter.
Smart said he was "really disappointed and upset" that Georgia, No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense, gave up 58 points. He said the defense "stunk it up and played really bad."
Smart gave the defense credit for playing better in the second half, especially in the third quarter when the Bulldogs rallied.
"We played with passion, we played with energy, we played with enthusiasm," Smart said. "We ran to the ball better. We tackled a little better, and we played a little more aggressive."
Chubb had 145 yards rushing. Smart, referring to Chubb's and Michel's jersey numbers, said "27, 1 put this team on their shoulders."
Smart said the senior running backs "makes is a little more doable" for Fromm's success. The freshman completed 20 of 29 passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
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Fromm said after Michel's fourth-quarter fumble "I told him that I had his back. Sony is awesome and made a heck of a play after that."
A 55-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship to end the first half helped give Georgia momentum.
"You'd think we were winning at halftime," Chubb said. "There was a lot of energy and guys leading. And just all our guys pulling together as one.
"One thing about this team is that these guys never give up. I knew going into that situation that we were going to win. We've been in that situation before and we were just going to pull it out."