By the time the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes and the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs take to the field in Atlanta for the Peach Bowl, it will have been 35 days since OSU last played a football game and 28 for the Dawgs. During that time period, both teams have had an opportunity to get guys healthy so that they are entering the College Football Playoff as close to 100% as humanly possible.
Of course, since college football coaches are paranoid and refuse to share any information whatsoever that they don't absolutely have to, we don’t really know what’s going on in the injury department, but let’s take a look at what we know from each team.
At this point, all of the injuries have likely been baked into the odds and, unless something major happens between now and Saturday, the lines won’t change too dramatically. Currently, DraftKings Sportsbook has the Buckeyes as 6.5-point underdogs with a 62.5-point over/under line.
Georgia Injury Situation
Even though the Bulldogs routed LSU in the SEC Championship Game, two starters had to leave the contest due to injuries. The team’s No. 1 wide receiver Ladd McConkey left the game with an apparent knee injury. Of course, for the UGA offense, being the No. 1 WR doesn’t mean that you are the No. 1 pass catcher. While McConkey has 51 receptions for 675 yards and five scores, he is behind tight end Brock Bowers in all three of those categories (although just by a single reception).
The other noteworthy injury from the SEC title Game was to right offensive tackle Warren McClendon who reportedly sustained an “upper-leg injury” during the game. McClendon has started 37 consecutive games for the Bulldogs.
During his media availability on Monday, UGA head coach Kirby Smart declined to provide any specific status updates on either player, opting instead to keep it vague... something that Buckeye fans are very familiar with from Ryan Day.
“We’re excited to get those guys hopefully back,” Smart said, “and we’ll see how they do this week.”
Certainly not a full-throated declaration that both will be playing, but not ruling them out completely either. so instead of having any clarity on the situation, we — along with the Ohio State team — are left having to wait and see what the situation will be for both players on Saturday.
While losing any starter is less than desirable, these won’t likely be death blows for the UGA offense, even if both are out. While McConkey is the team’s leading wide receiver, as I mentioned before, Bowers is their primary receiving weapon and running back Kenny McIntosh is the team’s third-leading receiver. So the WR passing game is not exactly at the center of the Dawgs’ offensive attack.
As far as McClendon goes, while he has started every game for practically three seasons, on depth charts, Georgia lists him as a co-starter with sophomore Amarius Mims. While the veteran has gotten the nod, clearly the coaching staff sees something from Mims, meaning that with nearly a month to prep, should he be called upon in the Peach Bowl, Buckeye fans shouldn’t expect a major decline in protection.
Earlier in the month, Smart said that the pair was getting some work in, but hadn’t really rejoined the team on the practice field.
“I don’t know when exactly we’ll get those guys back,” Smart said. “They’re not practicing with us right now, but they’re conditioning. They’re going and moving around, but they’re not practicing just yet.”
Whether they have fully gotten back into the flow of practices is not yet fully known. There is at least one other Georgia injury worth noting, but it isn’t anything new. The Bulldogs lost linebacker Nolan Smith in the team’s 42-20 win over Florida in late October. The defensive leader tore his pectoral muscle and underwent season-ending surgery to repair it. At the time, Smith had 18 tackles — seven for loss, including three sacks, which was the team lead at the time.
Though the defense has responded since Smith’s departure, and Jalen Carter is unquestionably the star of the unit, losing a player who was considered a first-round draft pick had he stayed healthy is always difficult to replace.
Ohio State Injury Situation
As we have chronicled throughout the season, the injury bug has bitten the Buckeyes in the butt at nearly every turn. From week to week, one was never sure who was going to be active and who wasn’t; which running back would be carrying the rock, and which one would be in a walking boot; which cornerback would be on the sideline with a strained hammy, and which one would be on the field with a cast on his hand.
If there is any silver lining to the Buckeyes losing to Michigan on Nov. 26 (and it is difficult for me to even wrap my head around there being a positive out of that) it is that they got an extra week to get healthy without having to risk anyone else getting beaten up in the Big Ten Championship Game.
There has been precious little said about the Buckeye cornerbacks in terms of their health recently, so we’re hoping that no news is good news. If OSU can roll out a healthy Cam Brown, Jordan Hancock, and Denzel Burke, that would be a huge positive for the team. Even though UGA’s wide receivers are not likely to light the world on fire, that is mostly because of the style of offense, rather than their athletic abilities. But, if Ohio State’s CBs can play them one on one, that will open up safeties to cover the tight ends and running backs who are even more likely to catch balls for the Dawgs.
But in terms of specifics, it sounds like both offensive guard Matt Jones and running back Miyan Williams are nearing 100%, although Williams missed a media availability on Tuesday due to illness. Given his injury issues this season, I’m just glad if he had to get sick that it was early in the week and not later.
OSU out-going offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said that Jones has been practicing for the past two weeks after dealing with a severely sprained ankle that kept him out of the regular-season finale against the Wolverines. so while Josh Fryar and Enokk Vimahi could likely go if necessary, it sounds like Jones will be back in the starting rotation.
In terms of Williams’ health, quarterback C.J. Stroud said that the RB is looking more like his old self in practice lately, which should be good news for the offensive; having a legitimate running threat to balance out the pass-first attack should hopefully keep the Georgia defense at least a little bit on its toes.
Of course, the biggest injury news for Ohio State since the end of the regular season was getting official confirmation that neither Jaxon Smith-Njigba nor TreVeyon Henderson would be playing in the game. JSN has been hampered with a nagging hamstring injury that has reemerged as an issue every time he attempted to play this season, and Henderson has undergone surgery on his foot.
Obviously having two of the most talented players in the country at their positions would have been a major boon for the Buckeyes as they head into the CFP, they have primarily played all season without Smith-Njigba, and Henderson (like Williams) has been in and out of the lineup so much, that I’m not sure that the offense was ever able to solidify a singular running identity with either back. So, perhaps it is better that they know for sure who their starting running back is (unless Woody forbid something else happens) so that a game plan can be built around what Miyan brings to the table.