Ohio State’s offensive line has been solid this year. Not spectacular though, which they will need to be in their College Football Playoff matchup against Georgia. The Bulldogs are built up front, and their defense starts and stops with how their defensive line plays.
The Bulldog’s defensive line needs little introduction, with players like Jalen Carter anchoring the defense up front. Statistically speaking, Georgia has been inconsistent in a few phases, but they do not get a lot of sacks — 111th in the country in sack rate — and they rely on four to get consistent pressure. The most important group for Ohio State in this game will be the interior offensive line — if they can communicate and ensure Carter is not wrecking the entire game plan.
If Ohio State has to dedicate additional blockers to limit Carter, Georgia has the Buckeyes right where they want them. This opens up one-on-one matchups across the line of scrimmage for the other pass rushers, and also creates more conflict if Georgia brings additional pressure.
The importance of winning early downs can not be overstated in this matchup. If Ohio State gets off schedule, they will be able to sit in coverage and the defensive line will be able to pin their ears back.
As vaunted as Georgia’s pass rush can be, they only have 26 sacks on the year. Contextually this number starts with them only rushing four defenders on most occasions. When they bring extra rushers, they tend to create constant pressure. But the rate of getting home leaves a lot on the table for how much pressure they create. For Ohio State, Stroud has not been great against the blitz this year and with pressure in his face. If the Buckeyes can’t keep the pocket clean, this will challenge a years worth of what teams have found as a weakness for the Buckeyes.
In the play below, we can see how pressure effects the quarterback, but how the quarterback is able to fade back while still delivering the throw. Georgia shows a five man rush on the play, then drops the left end into coverage bringing only four. They run a twist with the right end and the right defensive tackle. The twisting end is unblocked in the middle. This pressure forces the quarterback to retreat backwards. He is forced into an off the back foot throw. Georgia playing man gives Auburn’s quarterback enough of a window to fit the ball into for a first down.
Off the back foot throws are not how you want your quarterback living, but Stroud has shown he has the arm talent to make those throws. The real point of the last clip was to show that pressure can be evaded, and if the quarterback is able to move within the pocket he can make life on his offensive line that much easier. Stroud’s pocket presence will be tested, and if he can’t work with in the pocket and is forced to maneuver outside, the Buckeyes have not found a lot of success in that area.
In the next play, Georgia is taking on LSU and has forced them into a third-and-long situation. LSU relieved their starter due to injury in this game, so they were on quarterback No. 2. Georgia rushes four on this play, with one player stopping to try to interfere with the passing lane. In the first of three pass rush matchups, LSU’s right guard is tasked with Jalen Carter, and does a great job of working him up the field. The end takes on the right tackle gets way up the field in his rush, and the right end gets stuffed by the left tackle.
With the pocket collapsing, the quarterback does a great job, he climbs up the pocket and evades the rush. By the rushers getting too far up the field, this allows for the quarterback to have a clean throw – which he does nothing with.
Looking at the result of the last play, the pressure impacts the timing of the quarterback. The play shows that even when you beat the rush, the coverage is its own animal. This is where Ohio State’s receivers are going to have to win their battles to help out the quarterback being pressured.
This next play is not indicative of Georgia’s standard defense. They are in a soft zone and the half is expiring, but it is indicative of the protection needed to beat Georgia’s defense. Georgia is bringing four, but are playing a soft zone behind the pass rush, which is not the conventional way the Bulldogs usually cover. On the snap, the secondary drops back and the pass rush does not do anything from a stunting standpoint.
LSU’s offensive line handles the rush well, and gives the quarterback a clean pocket. This allows LSU to throw with timing and hit a big gain across the middle.
The passing game starts with the protection up front and ends with the receivers winning their one-on-one matchups. But there is a huge responsibility on Stroud coming into this game due to his struggles with handling pressure this season. His pocket mobility and throwing off schedule will need to be at a level we haven’t seen consistently this year.
Georgia’s defensive line is a load to handle. They don’t always get home, but they collapse the pocket in on quarterbacks making them uncomfortable. If Georgia is able to win with four rushers, the night will be a long one for the Buckeyes. Winning for Georgia is throwing the timing off and disrupting passing lanes with their hands at the line of scrimmage. Sacks from the rush and blitzes are a bonus.
If Ohio State can limit the disruptions on a play-to-play basis and let Stroud get comfortable, the Buckeyes can find success downfield.
Where the Georgia Bulldogs defensive line has shown some struggles in rushing the passer consistently, the run stopping has ranked with the best in the country all year long. According to Footballoutsiders, Georgia ranks 7th in power success rate at 50 percent. This is a matchup to watch with Ohio State’s 119th ranked offensive line in the same category. If you look at the Buckeyes’ offensive struggles this season, a lot of the issues stem from the lack of a power run game on key downs.
Georgia’s defensive line has dominated these situations this year, and a key reason why is the athleticism and size of their defensive line. This first play shows the athleticism Georgia has up front and how it impacts the running game. Auburn runs an outside zone look from the pistol. The offensive line is stepping right with the handoff going play side. Georgia’s defensive end (No. 4) reads the play at the snap based off the offensive line’s first step. He uses his quickness jumping inside and the offensive linemen doesn’t have a chance.
Georgia makes a play in the backfield for a huge tackle for loss.
Going back to their matchup against Kentucky, there was a two play sequence in which Georgia flashed their physical strength and then their athleticism in a short yardage scenario. The combinations of size, speed, and strength up front is what truly separates the great defensive lines across the country from the elite ones like Georgia, and the next to plays show why.
In the first of two plays, Georgia shows physicality up front. Kentucky runs an inside zone here, and looking at the line of scrimmage, this play never has a chance. Georgia’s defensive line steps across the faces of the offensive line, then anchors in place. They gain leverage and push back Kentucky’s offensive line into the running back. By winning the leverage against the offensive line, this allows the unblocked player to make the stop in the backfield.
In the second part of the two plays, Kentucky once again tries to get the first on the ground. The Wildcats once again take the snap from the gun, and the running back is unable to get any forward momentum.
That leads to a problem for Kentucky, because Georgia’s defensive end beats his man inside on the snap. This shows how Georgia wins in these situations with speed and this forces the back outside with the defense already flowing that direction. Georgia’s outside linebacker does his job using his strength to keep contain, this forces the back inside to the flowing defenders. The remaining defensive linemen scrape down the line, and the linebackers finish off the play to make a huge fourth down stop.
Ohio State has two All-Americans on the offensive line and two All-Big Ten level players. The talent is there to matchup against the lauded Georgia defensive line, but Ohio State’s struggles situationally this season make this feel like a more lopsided matchup than it is on paper. For the Buckeyes to have any offensive success against Georgia, it starts up front — and that can’t be stated enough.
Georgia’s defensive line plays a straight up brand of football, but they are successful because they do the small things well. They win with leverage, and their ability to read plays at the snap takes the talent to another level. It would be one thing to face group with this much talent on the interior, but they are well-coached which adds to why they’re such an effective group.
Ohio State will need to win their individual matchups against the four man rush. If they can do that, and force Georgia to bring additional pressure, this will open up more options in the passing game. In the run game, Ohio State needs to be creative and remember that there is more than Wide Zone.
The matchup up front is where the game is going to be won by either side. If the Buckeyes make Georgia’s defensive line look human, then the offensive should find success. On the other hand, if the Georgia’s defensive line shows up and dominates, it can be a long New Year’s Eve for the Buckeyes.