Since the Georgia Bulldogs hired Kirby Smart as their head coach, they have found success on the back of their dominant defenses. This year has been no different, even with an expected drop off with many players leaving for the NFL. Despite the turnover, Georgia has found success.
In their biggest games of the year, Georgia has limited explosive offenses across the country, including Tennessee and Oregon, and have taken care of almost every team they’ve lined up across from. Throughout the season this defense has evolved to make up for personnel being injured, but they have made it work in a variety of ways.
Georgia has done this through a dominant defensive line led by Jalen Carter, who has returned from injury in recent weeks. In the secondary, cornerbacks Kelee Ringo and Kamari Lassiter steal the show with a pair of talented safeties behind them. From a talent standpoint, there is not be a group with more in the country on that side of the ball.
Ohio State will need to execute their gameplan, but the real test is going to be how the Buckeyes prepare for the moment. That is one place where the Bulldogs have won games from the start. If the Buckeyes can’t match the psychological aspects of this game, the Dogs could take control early — and with this talented defense, not relinquish that control until the end of the game.
Georgia has one of the worst sack percentages in college football, getting to the QB on 5.52 percent of drop backs. This number has improved since Carter’s return, and Georgia has also brought more pressure from the second level compared to recent years. The combination of blitz packages and having one of the best interior pass rushers has netted significantly better results in recent weeks.
On the year, they have over 200 quarterback pressures and the per game numbers have increased since Carter’s return from injury. Georgia relies on their four man rush on most passing situations, choosing to keep the players behind in coverage. When they do blitz, they come fast and hard, giving the quarterback little time to throw.
As we can see in the play below, Tennessee is running their quick passing game to get the five yards needed. They protect against the pressure well, but even when Georgia’s defense did not get home, the result of the play was a rushed incompletion.
The main reason Georgia does not rely on bringing additional pressure from the second level is the interior pass rush. Interior pressure has been a common theme for Smart’s Georgia defenses, and this is one of the hardest things for a quarterback to face. With dominant edge rushers, players are able to step up and maneuver around, but when the pressure comes from the inside, the defender ends up in the quarterbacks lap before he can do anything about it.
This happened to Hendon Hooker quite a few times against Georgia, most notably on the safety that was overturned. Carter is lined up in a 2i alignment, meaning he is over the guard shaded slightly inside the A-Gap. Tennessee keeps the back in to help and release. Carter’s rush starts with a Bull Rush that gets the guard off balance. Once the back escapes out, Carter uses a Push-Pull move and rag dolls the Tennessee guard.
With the man-coverage behind the rush, Hooker makes a late decision and this allows Carter to get home.
The Georgia pass rush is complementary to their man-coverage, and when the secondary covers well downfield, the four man rush is able to create pressure forcing hurried throws. When they need to they are prepared to bring the blitz, but the gamble has bit them before.
Ohio State will need to have a great day protecting Stroud, and the likes of Donovan Jackson and whoever ends up suiting up at right guard will have their work cut out for them. If they’re not up to the task, there a plenty of games to look back on for what the outcome would most likely be.
Georgia's has the No. 1 ranked rush defense in yards per game, and is No. 5 overall in yards per rush. Ryan Day’s goal will be to remain balanced, but teams have struggled to find any semblance of a run game against this team. This starts up front again, as the Georgia defensive line leads the way in the Bulldogs’ rush defense. Their athleticism and strength allows them to eat up blockers, clearing space for the linebackers to flow freely.
Against Kentucky, Georgia had one of their least successful games against the run from a per rush standpoint — and still only gave up 89 yards. In the play below, Kentucky is in Ohio State’s worst situation with a 3rd-and-1. Georgia’s goal with their defensive linemen is to cross the face of the blocker in front of them. By doing this, it takes away the running backs front side running lane. After they cross the face, the next goal is to get up field forcing the running back to make a decision.
Kentucky gets to the second level on the front side of the play, but the defensive line forces this back into the linebacker who is unblocked, resulting in a short yardage stand for the Dogs.
Where teams have found success on occasion against Georgia’s defense running the ball is with slight misdirections. Kentucky uses a Pin-and-Pull blocking scheme here to run their Wide toss. As we saw in the last play, Georgia is trying to cross the face of the down blocking defenders.
The reason this play works for Kentucky is because to the right side both players follow the Kentucky linemen down. On the left side of the offensive line, both players get walled off by down blocking linemen. The tight end is responsible for getting up to the second level, and the pulling guard impedes the defensive end getting back in the play. Ohio State runs this concept regularly. Georgia will either have to change tendencies or rely on their linebackers to beat the blocks.
There are no guarantees for having success against Georgia from a run game standpoint — many teams have tried. The goal will be to have success in the run game in key situations and keep Georgia off balance. If Ohio State finds some big plays and is able to get Georgia off balance, this is where they can find some big plays.
In coverage, Georgia is by far at their best when they are playing man-to-man. This allows them to bring four, and they are confident that the windows will make quarterbacks make bad decisions. In the videos up in the pressure section, Georgia was in man-coverage and that is why their defense is at its most dynamic when they can play their base coverage.
Against Tennessee, Georgia thrived in man-coverage and were physical against the Tennessee receivers. Against the slot receiver, the nickel corner is playing a catch technique, meaning he is letting the defender get into him so he can get his hands on him. Once the receiver shows where he is going, the defender is able to stay in phase and breaks up the pass.
Ohio State will need to win one-on-one matchups and play hard through the catch. Georgia competes for every ball, so the Buckeyes will have to as well.
Georgia plays man with two-high safeties, which creates a different look for opposing quarterbacks. If opponents run shallow routes, the safeties have the freedom to come down. If teams run deep, they are capable of covering downfield. The issue for Georgia that arises in this coverage is the fact that there is no help in the middle of the field. One linebacker has the tight end and the other has the running back in coverage.
This allows Tennessee’s receiver to find space for an easy completion, and turn a short route into a big gain.
Ohio State will need to do their best to win their one-on-one matchups, and when they have an opportunity make a play after the catch. Georgia mixes in zone coverages on occasion, but this was more the case against mobile quarterbacks. They will do this to throw off the timing of opposing quarterbacks.
Against LSU, Georgia gave up more big plays than usual, and the mixtures of coverages really put the Bulldogs in a bind at times. The Buckeyes should expect to see more man-coverage with one or two high safety looks. But if they do see a zone, there will be opportunities for some big window throws.
LSU was able to hit on some big plays against Georgia’s zone because of the threat of their quarterback to run. Keeping eyes in the backfield was a detriment here, and LSU’s receiver was able to cross the field into wide open space for the catch. A missed tackle leads to a long touchdown.
Ohio State has the talent on offense to challenge Georgia’s defense, but they will need to get out of their comfort zone at times. Ryan Day has routinely forced being balanced, running the ball when teams expect it and doing the same in throwing situations. Avoiding tendencies and attacking Georgia with intent in both the run game and passing game will not be easy, but the effort has to be there.
For Ohio State to be successful passing the ball, the Buckeyes will need to limit the four man rush. If they are successful, it will make Georgia choose between defending downfield comfortably with seven defenders or bringing extra bodies to throw off timing. Stroud has not been great against the blitz this year, so I expect to see the Bulldogs bring pressure early. If the Buckeyes can hit on some plays downfield this will open up the rest of the offense.
In the run game, misdirection with the offensive linemen and blocking with the receivers will need to be an emphasis. The plays to Xavier Johnson and Egbuka coming in motion are actually plays that can keep Georgia off balance. Seeing how Pin-and-Pull blocking schemes have worked because they attack Georgia’s tendencies, seeing these more will mean the Buckeyes saw what we did today.
This is no small task, but the Buckeyes are a capable, talented football team. They need to be willing to take some risks. Of all the teams this season, Ohio State has three players capable of winning man-to-man matchups against Georgia. Even though most of the country gives Ohio State no chance, if the Buckeyes execute, anything can happen.