ORLANDO, Fla. -- Georgia fired the first shot with its Heisman Trophy candidate, and Ohio State answered with a salvo from its scholar/greyhound. Not quite an even exchange, but close enough to keep the scoreboard level.
Georgia fired with its quarterback and his strong arm, and Ohio State had no answer. It took most of four quarters at the Florida Citrus Bowl to accomplish it, but eventually the Bulldogs squeezed the life out of the guys from the Big Ten, scoring with 4:32 left for a 21-14 victory.
Garrison Hearst and Robert Smith played as their publicists said they would -- Hearst gaining 163 yards in what likely will be the junior's final game for Georgia, and Smith, who quit football for a year to attend class, hustling for 113 yards for the Buckeyes.
What tipped the ledger, however, was the work of Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier, who passed for 242 yards to nine receivers. It was his 21-yard pitch to Shannon Mitchell on the winning drive that put the Bulldogs on Ohio State's end of the field, leading to Frank Harvey's 1-yard carry for the winning points.
"Their [the Bulldogs'] ability to throw the ball and our inability to throw it was probably the difference," Ohio State coach John Cooper said. "We wanted to force them to throw. But they were able to do it, and we weren't."
Actually, Georgia didn't do badly even when it kept the ball on the ground. The Bulldogs opened with a 14-play drive, their longest of the season, passing only twice. In their second touchdown drive, they didn't complete a pass, with Hearst getting all 45 yards with runs. And in their winning 11-play drive, ,, only three plays were passes.
But total it all up, and Georgia had 444 yards of offense, 140 morethan Ohio State allowed per game this season. Included was an eight-catch, 113-yard day by wide receiver Andre Hastings, another Georgia junior who may be playing in the NFL next season.
Ohio State couldn't keep pace in the air for a variety of reasons. It didn't help when the Buckeyes' No. 1 receiver, Brian Stablein, was knocked out of the game in the third quarter with a leg injury. And Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit conceded what was apparent: he did not throw the ball well.
"For some reason I was pressing a little bit," said Herbstreit, a fifth-year senior playing his last college game. "I never could find a groove."
His longest completion might have been the key play in a victory for the Buckeyes if a gaffe moments later had not spoiled it. He flipped a screen pass to Smith midway through the fourth quarter, and Smith skittered across the field for 45 yards to give Ohio State a first down at Georgia's 15-yard line. Only a come-from-behind tackle by Georgia's Greg Tremble kept Smith from scoring the go-ahead touchdown.
The score was 14-14, and it appeared that, at worst, Ohio State would come out with a 17-14 lead. But on first down, Georgia linebacker Mitch Davis dropped Butler By'not'e for a 1-yard loss, and on second down Herbstreit overthrew everyone.
On third down, Herbstreit turned after taking the snap and collided with fullback Jeff Cothran while trying to hand off. The ball popped loose, and Georgia defensive lineman Travis Jones smothered it.
The fumble recovery, though, didn't win the game for Georgia. It only prevented Ohio State from scoring. The Bulldogs' offense still had 80 yards to the goal line.
Not for long. Hearst bolted for 13 yards on the first play, then added 11, and when Zeier made his 21-yard connection to Mitchell, the Bulldogs were on Ohio State's 35.
The Buckeyes would unintentionally help Georgia's cause with a couple of 5-yard penalties, and an 8-yard carry by Hearst got Georgia to the 5. It took Harvey just two carries to score the winning touchdown.