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The end of the Rose Bowl showed what Roquan Smith will bring to the Bears

Chicago saw Smith dominating in crunch time to help Georgia win the best game of the year.

NFL: NFL Draft-Red Carpet Arrivals Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone will remember the 2017 season’s Rose Bowl for its dramatic offense. Georgia’s 54-48 win against Oklahoma took two overtimes, and it will go down as one of the great scoring track meets in recent college football history. It was the year’s best game.

But the guy who defined the game in the end played defense: Georgia linebacker and top NFL Draft prospect Roquan Smith. You can get the Chicago Bears were watching. They picked Smith with the eighth selection the draft on Thursday night.

At the Rose, Smith’s 11 tackles led all players. Only one of those was for a loss (of two yards), but he changed the game by sealing off lane after lane for Oklahoma’s offense.

The Rose Bowl was billed in some circles as Smith vs. Baker Mayfield.

Mayfield had just won the Heisman Trophy with the most prolific regular-season passing stats in history. Smith had won the Butkus Award as the country’s top linebacker. He’d been the lynchpin of a one of the nation’s best defenses all year. Both Mayfield and Smith had 10 other guys on the field with them, but their head-to-head was as juicy as it gets: Could the country’s best quarterback outsmart its best linebacker in the biggest moment of the year? The only dampener was Mayfield had fallen ill days before the game.

“It’s going to be big playing against the Heisman Trophy winner, a decorated player like that,” Smith told reporters in Pasadena beforehand. “I’m sure he’s a competitor. Regardless of what’s wrong with him, he’s going to do his best to play in that game, and I’m sure he’ll be in that game, so we’re definitely looking forward to that.”

Ultimately, let’s say they battled to a draw, with the tie going to Smith because Georgia won the game. Considering the quality of UGA’s defense, Mayfield had a great game: 23-of-35 passing for 287 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, and a 147.7 rating (plus a damn touchdown catch). Reminder: He’d been sick for days.

Smith staged his own demolition derby at the end of the game.

Both Mayfield and Smith got their shots in, but Smith’s came in the biggest moments.

Four of Smith’s 11 stops came after the third quarter. Each was pivotal to Georgia limiting Mayfield’s OU offense juuuuuust enough for UGA to win.

All of these plays showed something special about him.

  • This tackle to limit Oklahoma to one yard on first down in the fourth quarter, setting up a punt a couple of plays later that turned out to be necessary cushion for the Dawgs:

What it showed: Smith is a football supercomputer, and this play showed how hard it is to trick him with misdirection. He tracks the ball well and pursues it. Smith also demonstrated how he could quickly shed blocks in space, though it didn’t hurt that an Oklahoma lineman pretty much blocked him right into the running back.

  • This tackle on the next play to limit OU to three yards and force third-and-6:

What it showed: Smith can change directions and fill gaps rapidly. Smith started to his left, on the wrong side of a pulling Oklahoma blocker who was trying to shove bodies toward the sideline. But Smith altered course and fired himself at the ball-carrier, bringing down Rodney Anderson to set up a long third down.

  • The most important defensive play of the whole game, this tackle on a sweep run on third-and-2 in overtime by Oklahoma’s Jordan Smallwood:

Oklahoma, with its Heisman-winning QB, was on Georgia’s 17-yard line, trailing by a field goal. The Sooners would’ve won the game with a touchdown on this series, but Smith’s field-roaming kept them to a field goal and preserved Georgia’s season.

What it showed: Smith’s sideline-to-sideline speed. A few months later, he’d run a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, fourth-best among linebackers in attendance and great for a man who weighed in at 236 pounds. In most drafts, not more than two or three linebackers have a physical profile like Smith’s, and he’s not just a workout warrior.

  • This tackle for a loss on a second-and-10 in the second overtime:

What it showed: Smith’s pursuit and open-field skill. Anderson had been giving UGA fits for most of the game. In normal circumstances, Anderson might’ve had longer to make a move in space, but Smith identified his route immediately and was flattening him by the time Anderson turned his head.

The Sooners missed a short field goal a few plays later, and the Dawgs won on a Sony Michel touchdown on their next series.

All of these plays showed off something he’ll bring to the next level.

That they came in such close succession at the end of a game on college football’s biggest stage should probably tell us something about what Smith will be in the NFL, too.