COLUMBUS – The Buckeyes now know their bowl fate and while there is plenty of excitement about being part of the four-team field for the College Football Playoffs, there is a reality that the path is going to be a difficult one.
Waiting for Ohio State are the Georgia Bulldogs, the defending national champions, and the No. 1 team in the country.
Now, it is not a case of all hope being lost facing the No. 1 team in the country, the Buckeyes are 5-10 overall but have won two of the last four against the No. 1 team overall, with both of those wins taking place in the postseason (vs. Alabama, vs. Miami Fla.). The last meeting, however, did not go so well in the CFP Championship Game against Alabama in the 2020 COVID season.
That was a short-handed Ohio State team, and this Ohio State team is hoping to have more hands-on deck, but we will have more on that in the coming days as more news of team health becomes available.
Here to get things kicked off, let’s take a quick look at the Georgia Bulldogs. There will be plenty of time to do deeper dives into what makes the Dawgs tick and such a great team, but for now, what does the casual fan need to know about Kirby Smart’s crew and how they got to this point.
A quick start
The Bulldogs did not open the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, they checked in at No. 3 behind both Ohio State and No. 1 Alabama. The Dawgs did not move into the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll until week three, a position that they did not relinquish the rest of the way.
Georgia made a strong impression on the nation in week one with its 49-3 demolishing of (then ranked) No. 11 Oregon, in a game that was not even that close.
Smart’s Bulldogs would only give up 10 points over its first 12 quarters of football with wins over Oregon, Sanford and South Carolina while averaging better than 43 points per game in games that were over by halftime.
Shortly after receiving the No. 1 ranking, UGA would show its first signs of mortality however with a 39-22 win over visiting Kent State in a game that was more competitive than the final score indicated, followed up by a 26-22 win at Missouri.
There is little doubt that the Bulldogs have been the most consistent team this season in many regards but between those two games along with a trip to Kentucky (16-6 win) it was obvious that any team could be ‘got’ on a bad day. Georgia managed to avoid getting tripped up, but it certainly flirted with disaster a few times along the way.
Georgia is No. 1 in the nation in total defense and it is difficult to find a real weakness in the numbers. The Bulldogs are No. 1 in red zone defense, No. 2 in scoring defense, No. 11 in passing efficiency defense, No. 3 in third down defense and No. 17 in fourth down defense. Surprisingly enough, the turnover margin is not great (No. 74) and teams have been able to throw for some yardage (passing yards allowed – No. 52) but when you total it all up, nobody has been able to best the Dawgs this season.
There is no shortage of names to follow on the defense, but you may want to focus on defensive tackle Jalen Carter. His numbers may not jump off the stats page on a first glance, but then you have to notice he only played in 11 of 13 games and teams are making a real effort not to let Carter beat them. AND, he is not some stand-up rusher coming off the edge, he is every bit of 6-foot-3, 300-pounds. Even with that, Carter has seven TFLs, three sacks, 19 QB hurries and has forced a pair of fumbles.
There are plenty of other names that we will get into over the coming weeks including Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Kelee Ringo and others, but Carter is the first player that everyone must account for the minute he steps on the field.
Why so quiet about the offense?
Georgia is No. 7 in total offense and nobody really talks about that side of the ball. Georgia teams of old were run first, run second teams, but this team is No. 18 in running the ball and No. 19 in throwing it. The Dawgs are averaging 39.2 points per game (11th) and are in the top-five nationally in third down offense.
As we get closer to game week, we will break down who the success has come against and if it lines up with Georgia’s schedule. But just ask Oregon, this Georgia offense can put points up in bunches when it needs to, or if you are just not going to stop them.
Quarterback Stetson Bennett doesn’t get the credit he deserves but a lot of that comes down to the fact that his numbers don’t just off the page like a CJ Stroud, Caleb Williams or Bryce Young. He is a 68-percent passer with 3,425 yards, 20 touchdowns against just six picks. Those numbers are not bad by any stretch but with so many teams these days getting their offensive identity through their quarterback, does UGA really show up on that radar?
As mentioned before, there have been some great running backs that have gone through Athens (Ga.) over the years. UGA has some great backs this season but has not really locked down on just one back. Kenny McIntosh leads the way with 137 carries for 709 yards and 10 scores while Daijun Edwards is not far off with 10 fewer carries, 28 fewer yards and three fewer touchdowns. Kendall Milton and Stetson Bennett have a combined 13 rushing scores between them as UGA has punched it in on the ground 37 times so far this season (to just five allowed).
And then there is the receiving game and the tight end position that is anchored by Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington. We will talk at length about each of those players in the coming days as Ohio State will have to find a way to contend with two players that are redefining (for different reasons) what a tight end can mean offensively.
Ladd McConkey got knocked out of the SEC Championship Game against LSU but there doesn’t seem to be much concern about his availability moving forward.
Close to home
The Peach Bowl has been played since 1968 and has seen four different venues over the history of the bowl. This will be Ohio State’s first ever opportunity to play in the Peach Bowl, but what about Georgia, making the short trip West from Athens (Ga.)? According to Mapquest, it is just a short 70-mile drive from door-to-door.
This will be UGA’s 7th Peach Bowl game and the Dawgs have a record of 4-2 overall in the game with the last win taking place after the 2020 season, a 24-21 win over Cincinnati. The last time this bowl game was part of the CFP semifinals, No. 1 LSU trounced No. 4 Oklahoma 63-28.
People assume that the proximity to campus gives the Dawgs some sort of insurmountable edge, but that is not the case when you look at the SEC Championship Game, which first moved to Atlanta for the 1994 game. UGA has played 10 times in the SEC Championship Game and holds a record of 4-6 overall in the game. Of course, it takes a great team to beat Georgia, something that the Buckeyes are hoping that they can prove to be.