COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Buckeyes faithful are waking up into the new year of 2023 heartbroken. Seconds after the clock struck midnight, OSU players walked into the locker room devastated after losing a 14-point lead and falling to Georgia 42-41 in the college football playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl.

As a nearly seven-point underdog against the reigning national champions, OSU certainly did not go down without a fight and was seconds from booking a spot in the national championship game. The performance from Ryan Day’s side was a far cry from its last game against an SEC team, a 28-point loss to Alabama in the 2020 title game.

The Buckeyes’ game plan had Georgia on the ropes for nearly the entire game as the defense was able to force key stops on the Bulldogs before giving up 18 points and 190 yards passing in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes’ offense played tremendously with quarterback C.J. Stroud having the game of a lifetime.

Here are three takeaways from the Buckeyes’ loss in Atlanta to end the 2022 season:

Stroud saves his best game for last

In his 25th start in scarlet and gray, junior quarterback C.J. Stroud had his best game in a Buckeye uniform. With questions raised on if the Buckeyes’ defense could stop Georgia, fans looked to the team’s excellent offense to keep the game a shootout. That is exactly what happened.

Stroud executed for OSU all night showing his usual poise and efficiency from the pocket. He completed 23 of his 34 pass attempts for a massive 348 yards and threw four touchdown passes. Those numbers are typical of Stroud but he affected the game in ways we haven’t seen before at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

On his third TD throw, Stroud showed off his mobility to scramble away to safety under pressure from the defensive line. He danced around three Bulldog defenders, kept his eyes fixed on the end zone, and eventually found Marvin Harrison Jr. in the corner of the end zone for six points.

He also executed multiple quick drives that led to scores, leading OSU down the field on a four-play, 75-yard drive for a go-ahead TD before halftime. That drive took 55 seconds. The first third-quarter drive? A 70-yard scoring drive on six plays in three minutes to go up 35-24. On those drives, Stroud showed his talent of pocket composure and patience when getting time to find his receivers.

The biggest positive note for Stroud in the game was his running game. Over the last two years, we’ve seen moments Stroud wasn’t confident to go for a run out of the pocket. Against Georgia, he showed he can add the ability to run the ball for big gains as he led the team with 12 carries for 34 yards, including a 27-yard rush on a key late-game drive to try and kill the clock.

It was his best game in a Buckeye uniform and despite the loss, Stroud said it was the most fun he ever had playing football. “That probably was the most fun game I ever played in my life,” Stroud said. “It just sucks that it has to come down like that.”

Defense contained Georgia until fourth quarter

Forty-two points is a lot to give up, but looking at the game play-by-play, the Buckeyes’ defense certainly was able to hold Georgia in multiple moments to give the team a chance for the upset.

One month after OSU fell to Michigan 45-23 in Columbus, the defense had to come up with adjustments and improvements to give the team a shot in its playoff game. They were able to do that for the first three quarters.

In the first half, the Buckeye defense limited Georgia to just three plays above 25+ yards. Two of those plays came in drives that ended with a Bulldog touchdown as the offense was effective in the run game and getting good catches in coverage.

After getting an interception and allowing two touchdowns, OSU’s defense had its best stretch of the game that started withholding Georgia to a field goal on its last full drive of the half. In that drive, UGA QB Stetson Bennett moved the chains into OSU territory on a 28-yard throw to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint. Following a 15-yard run by Kenny McIntosh, OSU held strong in the red zone allowing just six more yards on three plays, forcing a UGA field goal.

In the third quarter, the defense was phenomenal, forcing three consecutive three-and-out drives that resulted in a shutout to start the second half. The fourth quarter is when it opened up as Georgia notched three more 25+ yard plays, the same amount they got in the first three quarters, and scored 18 points to snatch the victory.

The final stats tell the story of a tough game defensively with 42 points and 533 yards allowed but OSU had its moments, particularly in the third quarter, that showed the vast improvements of this defense from 2021 to 2022.

“Forty-two points, we can’t let up 42 points in a game like that, especially with the offense playing the way it is,” said senior defensive end Zach Harrison. “But we played hard, and I’m proud of my guys, and I love my guys for doing that.”

Draft stock rises for multiple Buckeyes

With 244 days to go until the Buckeyes’ 2023 opener against Indiana, the focus will now shift to its star players heading into the NFL Draft. Multiple guys pinned for a bright professional future in football left on a high note in this Peach Bowl.

Stroud, as stated, had his best game as a Buckeye and will certainly have scouts debating if he is No. 1 pick material. The likes of the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers are the four teams most likely to draft a QB high in the draft order.

He is part of a QB class that also consists of former Heisman winner and Alabama star Bryce Young and Kentucky senior Will Levis. With Stroud’s consistency and growth as a player throughout his two years at OSU, he could be the top QB prospect in the 2023 class.

Another offensive star that scouts are excited to see in February’s combine is Paris Johnson Jr. The tackle led the offensive line to a very good performance where they allowed just four sacks and no QB hurries. Ohio State center Luke Wypler, as well as guards Matt Jones and Donovan Jackson, neutralized Georgia’s top-notch defensive line led by game-wrecker Jalen Carter. Johnson Jr. is certainly among the top offensive linemen available for NFL teams to draft in April.

For a future draft, NFL teams will be fighting over Marvin Harrison Jr., the son of Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison. Before leaving the game with a concussion in the third quarter, the sophomore had a massive game with two scores and more than 100 yards. He will no doubt enter the 2023 season as the nation’s top wide receiver.