ATHENS, Georgia — Georgia and Ohio State are two strong programs that have been watching each other up close for the past few years, racing each other in recruiting rankings and seeing Justin Fields flip from one program to the other, But have not met on the same football field.
That changes this year in the College Football Playoff semifinals, when they face off in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 12. 31. The race that seemed destined for a title for a while was actually for the title’s chances. Plenty of analysis awaits this big game, but here are Georgia’s initial thoughts.
Did Georgia get an unfair deal?
Many people, including those not thinking of conspiracy theories, will always assume that the members of the playoff selection committee ensured that a Michigan State-Ohio State rematch in the semifinals was not created. The upshot is that top-seeded Georgia ended up with fourth-seeded Ohio State in a supposedly tougher matchup (than Michigan-TCU).
Still, committee chairman Boo Corrigan provided data points when asked about the matter on Sunday.
“When you look at TCU, it’s 6-1 against teams over .500, 2-1 against teams that are ranked,” he said. “Ohio State beat Penn State and Notre Dame, got close in three quarters against Michigan, but at the end of the day, we got back to TCU and that didn’t happen against Kansas State. We don’t believe in anything (in the Big 12 championship game) to move them out of the standings. 3 mocks.
Is it convincing? Not really. But there isn’t a huge gap between the resumes of TCU and Ohio State. It’s just the name brand and proven talent base that makes Ohio State look like a better team.
What’s more, Georgia and Michigan have similar resumes. Both sides remain unbeaten. Michigan has the most impressive win (at Ohio State), while Georgia has a win over the top-ranked teams (5-2).
So this almost looks like a divisive situation: Michigan is (maybe) an easier matchup, but Georgia is basically playing at home. Speaking of which……
The hometown factor will be real but not decisive
It will be the third time Georgia has played at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in four months, but it is almost certain that Georgia will not dominate the crowd like the previous two. Oregon still has a long way to go, and LSU fans saw their enthusiasm dampened by a playoff exit.
However, Ohio State will get a guaranteed quota — Michigan State got 12,500 in the Peach Bowl last year — and its fans could make a splash on the secondary market given the stakes in the game.
Still, Georgia should have the majority of the crowd, it’s just a matter of how much. It will know the stage and feel comfortable there.
“You’re playing the defending champions in their backyard. We’re going to do everything we can to win this game,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day, who later made it clear he wasn’t complaining. “When you get to this point in the season, that’s what you have to do. You’re going to be in these electric atmospheres. If you asked me at the beginning of the season, you’re going to be in the national semifinal against Georgia in the Peach Bowl. , Of course, you will cut off your right arm for this opportunity.”
Well, probably not literally.
Kirby Smart, for his part, noted that on Georgia’s previous two trips to the semifinals, it went to Los Angeles and Miami. This happened to be the year Atlanta made it to the semifinals. Smart is also a bit like Norman Dale on zoom calls.
“The length of the course is exactly the same as any other course we play,” Smart said.
We all know it’s a sexy matchup between Ohio State’s offense and Georgia’s defense. Peach Bowl president Gary Stokan noted Sunday that Ohio State has the second-best scoring offense in the nation and Georgia has the second-best scoring defense.
But looking at it that way is a bit simplistic. On the one hand, Georgia’s defense was stellar in a game in which it gave up more than 500 passing yards to LSU. It’s an anomaly — Georgia entered the game No. 1 in the SEC in pass defense — but it gives Smart a talking point for the next few weeks.
“We can’t defend like we did last night, or we’re not going to be any kind of champion,” Smart said.
Of course, Georgia’s offense scored 50 points in the same game, which is only the second-highest total scored this season. The Bulldogs rank second in the SEC in yards per game behind Tennessee and have allowed 49 points (Oregon), 48 ( South Carolina), 27 (Tennessee in the rainy second half), 45 (Mississippi State) and 50 (LSU).
Meanwhile, Ohio State certainly looked vulnerable on defense against Michigan. But the Buckeyes still rank 18th nationally in defensive yards per game and 13th in defensive scoring. They’re not perfect — pass defense ranks ninth in the Big Ten — but it’s not exactly Southern Cal’s defense, either.
state of mind
Smart told his team on Sunday that last year’s Georgia team “probably had a different mentality than the team we have now.” It was clear: Last year’s team was emotional about losing the SEC title, and this year’s team needs to make sure 13-0 doesn’t lead to any complacency.
Smart also noted that Ohio State feels a little different. Critics might say the Buckeyes regressed into the playoffs, but they’re coming off a loss humbled. It’s similar to what Alabama did heading into the 2017 playoffs, and see how that plays out.
“With Ohio State, there’s an opportunity to breathe fresh air,” Smart said. “The excitement and energy that is provided, like the drive that we have to understand, we have to be able to match that and understand that part of that you have to know.”
it’s hard for georgia
The two shows have only met once, 29 years ago, but Smart has seen the Buckeyes in the past decade: the 2014 CFP semifinals, when he was at Alabama.
“Long day. Long day,” Smart said. “That’s Ezekiel Elliott, right?”
Yes, replied a reporter based in Ohio.
“He shredded a very talented defense in Alabama,” Smart said.
Day didn’t join Ohio State’s program until the 2017 season. But he kept the same basic, explosive approach to the program. He’s also recruiting at a high level: Ohio State has the third-largest talent pool in the nation, behind Alabama and Georgia, according to the 247Sports Talent Composite.
Going into the playoffs last year there was a feeling that if Georgia didn’t play Michigan, it would have a rematch with Alabama. This year, the perception in some quarters may be that tougher opponents take precedence, which may be a product of placing too much weight on preseason perceptions. Either way, it looks like Georgia will have to go through the Big Ten. If this year’s Georgia team is the national champion again, it will be well deserved.
(Top photo for Kirby Smart: Steve Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images)