ATLANTA — Only five Power 5 in college football have given up more passes of at least 40 yards than the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.
Georgia is regarded as having the best defense in the nation, but 12 times in 13 games this season, somebody has gotten behind the defense for a gain of 40 yards or more.
In the Bulldogs’ last outing, the defense allowed 502 combined yards passing to a pair of LSU quarterbacks in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia has spent the last few weeks trying to solve the issues in the secondary in hopes that they won’t pop up again.
As they match up against No. 4 Ohio State in this Saturday’s Peach Bowl semifinal, there are reasons to think the Buckeyes will have some success through the air. And as senior safety Chris Smith said on Tuesday, this is college football and the guys on the other side of the field are pretty good too.
“Different things happen on each different play,” Smith explained. “I think what a lot of people don’t understand is that we play against great players as well, so plays are going to be made. It’s just about how you respond to it.”
Georgia’s response will be key because few teams have the deep game like Ohio State. Buckeye head coach Ryan Day wants to stretch the field in as many ways as possible, but few ways are as effective as straight down the field.
Only four Power 5 teams have more 40-yard completions than the Buckeyes. Quarterback CJ Stroud’s touch and accuracy have been instrumental in fitting the ball into tight, downfield windows for 1,000-yard receivers Marvin Harrison, Jr. and Emeka Egbuka.
The way Harrison sees it, Georgia’s confidence may be one reason they have given up some plays, but it has also led to many more plays being made by the defense.
“I think they just are aggressive and they trust themselves to make plays,” Harrison said. “They’ve got a confidence in themselves too. And obviously, me being a player too, sometimes that kind of backfires when you have too much confidence in yourself. But they’re great players. They’re coming here ready to play and they’re gonna make some plays too.”
As Ohio State’s own defense found out in their last game against Michigan, an aggressive defense cannot afford to make mistakes. An aggressive defense can win the vast majority of its snaps, but it only takes a few mistakes to cost a team a game.
While the deep shots will likely be part of Ohio State’s game plan, they probably won’t come out and just start firing away. They will need to do it smartly so that they aren’t just wasting plays and field position.
“Like coach Day says, you have to be consistent in your intermediate passes and your short passes, to have that blessing to take those shots,” quarterback CJ Stroud explained. “Because you can’t take those shots on second and 10, third and 10. You can, but it’s not good football when you’re playing kind of behind the sticks. So I definitely think that a key to that is just us playing us. Being us. Having protection up front. Tight ends doing their job. Me making the right protection call. Our receivers getting the right play and doing their job. And then being dynamic in the run game as well. We have to make sure we can run the ball. So I definitely think that plays a part into it.”
In the end, however, it ultimately comes down to having the confidence to take the shot. Ohio State can’t be waiting for Georgia to allow it. That’s not how these things work. Chance favors the bold, after all.
“Football isn’t just an ‘Oh, I see it and I do it,’ type of thing,” Stroud said. “You’ve got to go out there and take it. It’s not something that’s just given to you. You have to go out there and take it from somebody. So I definitely think that’s something that we have to do, is be able to be dynamic in the pass game.”
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