Podlesny’s FG lifts Georgia past Cincinnati in Peach Bowl

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ATLANTA — Jack Podlesny told Georgia coaches before Friday’s Peach Bowl that he felt confident attempting field goals from as long as 55 yards – a full 4 yards past his career best.

Podlesny made good on his claim, kicking a 53-yard field goal with three seconds remaining, and No. 11 Georgia handed No. 6 Cincinnati its only loss of the season with a dramatic 24-21 victory in the Peach Bowl.

Podlesny dropped to one knee following the career-long kick as his teammates surged onto the field. Asked what he was thinking while he was kneeling, Podlesny said he wanted to “try to remember why I’m here. … God is good and it’s amazing to be here.”

Georgia trailed 21-10 in the fourth quarter, but its defense clamped down on Desmond Ridder and Cincinnati and JT Daniels helped rally the Bulldogs with his arm. Daniels, a Southern California transfer, passed for 392 yards while improving to a perfect 4-0 in four starts for Georgia.

Podlesny’s winning kick tied a Peach Bowl record for longest field goal and gave Georgia a 22-21 lead. Azeez Ojulari sacked Ridder for a safety on the final play. It was Ojulari’s third sack. Georgia tied a school record with eight sacks.

Ridder completed 24 of 37 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Jerome Ford added a career-long 79-yard touchdown run early in the second half but it wasn’t enough for the Bearcats.

Cincinnati (9-1, No. 8 CFP) was motivated to use the Peach Bowl to gain national respect. Coach Luke Fickell said the game was a measuring stick for his team.

“We’re not there yet,” Fickell said. “That’s what keeps motivating you, and I think that, you know, there’s a lot of things we’re going to take from this that we know we can do.”

Georgia (8-2, No. 9 CFP) won despite running for only 45 yards.

“I would feel much better if we just played our best game,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I don’t think we played our best game. I want to give Cincinnati credit for that. They created some of that.”

On Georgia’s final play before the decisive field goal, Daniels attempted a deep pass that fell incomplete. Asked why he didn’t try a shorter pass that might have made the kick more manageable, Smart said: “I felt comfortable with where he was that he would have the leg strength to get there.”

He was right.

Ridder threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Alec Pierce in the first quarter and added an 11-yard scoring pass to Josh Wyle late in the first half.

“We’ve been ready to play this game for a long time,” Ridder said. “It’s just, you know, disappointing, obviously, the way it ended.”

Daniels overcame an interception and a lost fumble to lead the comeback.

Georgia’s defense helped fuel the rally. Ridder fumbled on a sack by Ojulari, and Adam Anderson recovered at the Bearcats 25. Zamir White‘s 9-yard TD run trimmed Cincinnati’s lead to 21-16.

THE TAKEAWAY

Cincinnati: Led by Ridder, the Bearcats answered any doubts the Group of Five team could match up against Georgia, from the Southeastern Conference. Ridder frustrated Georgia’s defense with his mobility. Ford used his power to burst through the line and his speed to outrun the Bulldogs’ defense on his 79-yard scoring run early in the second half.

Georgia: White’s TD run in the fourth quarter was a rare highlight for a rushing attack that averaged only 1.9 yards on 24 carries. The Bulldogs played without backup running back James Cook, who was with his family following his father’s death. Running backs coach Dell McGee wore Cook’s No. 4 jersey on the sideline.

INJURIES

Cincinnati’s secondary played without two AP second-team All-America selections due to injuries: cornerback Ahmad Gardner (back) and safety James Wiggins (calf). Cincinnati also was without running back Gerrid Doaks (ankle).

ANOTHER TURNOVER

Coby Bryant’s interception of Daniels’ pass intended for George Pickens in the first quarter extended the Bearcats’ streak of forcing a turnover to 20 consecutive games. It’s the longest active streak among FBS teams.

EJECTED

Bearcats left tackle James Hudson was called for targeting and ejected late in the first half. Hudson lowered his helmet on a hit that knocked Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell to the ground.

Despite the penalty, Ridder kept the drive alive with two more passes, including a go-ahead 11-yard scoring pass to Whyle.

UP NEXT

Cincinnati: Ridder, a junior, is expected to announce his plans for 2021, a decision which could shape the Bearcats’ offseason. The Bearcats are scheduled to open next season on Sept. 4 against Miami of Ohio.

Georgia: The Bulldogs, who are expected to return most of their top skill position players on offense, will open their 2021 season with a high-profile game against Clemson in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”