ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia and Ohio State are two power programs that have watched each other from close range over the past few years, battling each other in the recruiting ladder and seeing Justin Fields move from one program to the other, but for all This time they don’t meet on the same soccer field.
That changes in this year’s College Football Playoff semifinals, where they meet on December 31 in the Peach Bowl. It’s the game that seemed destined for the championship for a while but will instead be for a chance to get there. Lots of analysis awaits the marquee matchup, but here are initial thoughts from Georgia’s perspective.
Did Georgia get a bad deal?
Many people, including those not inclined to conspiracy thinking, will always assume that the members of the playoff selection committee ensured that there was no Michigan-Ohio State rematch in the semifinals. The result was that top-seeded Georgia was perceived as playing the tougher game (than Michigan-TCU) against fourth-seeded Ohio State.
Still, committee chairman Boo Corrigan came armed with data points when asked about it on Sunday.
“If you look at TCU, 6-1 against .500+ teams, 2-1 against ranked teams,” he said. “Ohio State had the good wins against Penn State and Notre Dame, narrowly played Michigan three quarters of the game, but at the end of the day we went back to TCU and nothing happened during that game against Kansas State (in the Big 12 championship game ), which we didn’t think knocked her out of #3.
convincing? Not really. But there’s not exactly a huge gulf between TCU and Ohio State’s resumes. It’s just the brand name and perceived talent base that make Ohio State seem like a much better team.
Stetson Bennett and the Georgia Bulldogs are 2-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this year with a third game coming up at the Peach Bowl. (Dale Zanine / USA Today)
Additionally, Georgia and Michigan are not miles apart on their resumes. Both are undefeated. Michigan has the most impressive win (at Ohio State), while Georgia has more wins over ranked teams (five-for-two).
So it almost seems like a split-the-difference situation: Michigan (maybe) gets the easier matchup, but Georgia essentially plays on a home field. Speaking of…
The home factor will be real, but not decisive
This will be Georgia’s third time at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in four months, but it’s almost certain that Georgia won’t have the dominant crowd split it had the first two times. Oregon still had much further to go, and LSU fans saw their enthusiasm dampened at being eliminated from the playoff chase.
However, Ohio State will get a guaranteed allotment — Michigan State got 12,500 in the Peach Bowl last year — and its fans will likely hit the secondary market hard given the game’s stakes.
Still, Georgia should have the majority of viewers, it’s just a matter of quantity. And it will know the stadium and feel comfortable there.
“You play against the defending champion in his backyard. It will take everything we do to win this game,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said, later making it clear he wasn’t complaining. “When you get to this point in the season, here’s what you need to do. You will be in these electric atmospheres. If you had asked me at the beginning of the season if you were going to play Georgia in the Peach Bowl for the national semifinals, of course you would have cut off your right arm for the opportunity.”
Well, probably not literally.
For his part, Kirby Smart pointed out that Georgia had traveled to Los Angeles and Miami in the previous two semi-final trips. This happened to be the year in the rotation that Atlanta was a semifinalist. Smart also went a bit Norman Dale on the Zoom call.
“The field is exactly the same length as any other field we play on,” Smart said.
By reputation, this is a sexy duel between the Ohio State offense and the Georgia defense. Peach Bowl Chairman Gary Stokan pointed out Sunday that Ohio State has the second-ranked offense and Georgia has the second-ranked defense.
But it would be a little too easy to see it that way. For one, the Georgia defense is coming off a game in which they gave up more than 500 yards to LSU. That was an anomaly — Georgia came into play first in the SEC in pass defense — but it gave Smart a talking point for the next few weeks.
“We can’t defend like we did last night or we won’t be champions,” Smart said.
The Georgia offensive, of course, accumulated 50 points in the same game, and that was only the second-highest score they had this season. The Bulldogs rank second in the SEC in yards per game, behind only Tennessee, and against the five ranked teams they faced they have 49 points (Oregon), 48 (South Carolina), 27 (Tennessee) in a game scored in which it rained in the second half), 45 (Mississippi State) and 50 (LSU).
Ohio State, meanwhile, certainly looked vulnerable on defense against Michigan. But the Buckeyes still rank 18th in defensive yards per game and 13th in goal defense nationally. They’re not perfect — ninth in the Big Ten in pass defense — but that’s not exactly Southern California’s defense either.
Way of thinking
Smart told his team Sunday that last year’s Georgia team “had a different mindset than maybe our team right now.” The point was obvious: Last year’s team was emotionally fueled by the SEC Championship loss, while this year’s team needed to make sure a 0-13 didn’t lead to complacency.
Smart also pointed out that Ohio State feels otherwise. Critics may say the Buckeyes returned to the playoffs, but they suffered defeat and were humbled. That’s similar to what Alabama had when they entered the 2017 playoffs, and see how that turned out.
“There’s a breath of fresh opportunity with Ohio State,” Smart said. “The excitement that’s created and the energy, it’s like an impulse that we need to understand and we need to be able to live up to that and understand that there’s a part of it that you need to know. “
This will be tough for Georgia
Those two programs have only met once, and that was 29 years ago, but Smart has watched the Buckeyes in the past decade: the 2014 CFP semifinals while he was in Alabama.
“Long day. Long day,” Smart said. “That was Ezekiel Elliott, right?”
Yes, replied a reporter from Ohio.
“He shredded a pretty talented Alabama defense,” Smart said.
Day only joined Ohio State’s program in the 2017 season. But he has maintained the same basic, explosive approach to the program. He’s also recruited at a high level: Ohio State has the third most talented team in the nation, behind only Alabama and Georgia, according to the 247Sports Talent Composite.
Last year entering the playoffs felt like Georgia was headed for a rematch with Alabama if it didn’t stumble against Michigan. This year, the perception in some circles could be that tougher opponents come first, possibly due to over-dwelling on pre-season perceptions. Anyhow, it looks like Georgia will have to go through both Big Ten powers. If this year’s Georgia team becomes national champions again, they deserve it.
(Top Photo by Kirby Smart: Steve Limentani / ISI Photos / Getty Images)