Ohio State will make their first appearance in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Saturday night when they square off with the Georgia Bulldogs, who are the defending national champions and the top seed in the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes have had over a month to stew over their 45-23 loss to Michigan in Columbus at the end of November, and hope to take out their frustrations on the Bulldogs.
Last time out
The last time we saw Ohio State, the defense of the Buckeyes was being ripped apart by J.J. McCarthy and Donovan Edwards. The Buckeyes gave up 530 yards to the Wolverines, with five of Michigan’s touchdowns coming on plays of at least 40 yards. Ohio State wasn’t able to provide any resistance when it mattered most, as the Wolverines outscored the Buckeyes 21-0 in the fourth quarter.
Buckeye bowl history
Ohio State will try to again shock the world by knocking off another top seed from the SEC in a College Football Playoff semifinal. Back in the first-ever CFP that took place on the first day of 2015, the Buckeyes took on top-seeded Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Not many gave Ohio State a chance in the game, especially since they were coming into the game with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones as the starter after J.T. Barrett was injured in the Michigan game.
After falling behind the Crimson Tide early in the game, Ohio State found their groove and took a 21-20 lead right before halftime. The victory was capped off by Ezekiel Elliott running “85 yards through the heart of the south” with less than four minutes left in the game to extend Ohio State’s lead to 42-28. The Buckeyes would go on to win 42-35, and then defeat Oregon in Dallas in the title game to claim the first College Football Playoff.
Since then, Ohio State has made three other appearances in the CFP, posting just a 1-3 record. The Buckeyes lost twice to Clemson before topping the Tigers in the 2020 playoff in the Sugar Bowl. Alabama would get some revenge on Ohio State by easily winning the title game in Miami to close out the 2020 season.
This year’s Peach Bowl marks the ninth-straight year in which Ohio State has made a New Year’s Six bowl game. The Buckeyes are the only team in the country that has made a New Year’s Six bowl every year since they were introduced with the College Football Playoff. In the 10 New Year’s Six bowl games they have appeared in, Ohio State has a 7-3 record, with the only losses coming in College Football Playoff games. Overall in bowl games, the Buckeyes are 26-27.
Only other meeting with the Dawgs
Saturday night’s game marks just the second time the Buckeyes and Bulldogs have met on the football field. Georgia earned the win in the 1993 Florida Citrus Bowl when they beat Ohio State 21-14. Garrison Hearst earned game MVP honors by rushing for 163 yards and two touchdowns. Frank Harvey secured the win for Georgia when he scored from a yard out with just over four minutes left in the game to break a 14-14 tie.
Running back Robert Smith led the Buckeyes with 112 yards and two scores, but Ohio State was hurt by the play of quarterback Kirk Herbstreit, who completed just a third of his 24 pass attempts.
Leading Ohio State’s offense is quarterback C.J. Stroud, who is a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist. Even though the Buckeyes ranked second in the country with 44.5 points per game this year, Stroud has faced a lot of scrutiny over the last month for not beat Michigan the last two years. A win over Georgia would go a long way to restoring some of Stroud’s legacy, as this is undoubtedly his last year at Ohio State since he is projected to be a first round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
This season Stroud threw for 3,340 yards and 37 touchdowns in Ohio State’s 12 games. Stroud’s yardage total is the third-most in a season in school history, only topped by the 4,435 yards he threw for last year and Dwayne Haskins’ 4,831 passing yards in 2018. Stroud sits either first or second in pretty much every Ohio State career, season, and game statistical passing category.
Marv and the men
The top target for Stroud is Marvin Harrison Jr., who has stepped up big time after Jaxon Smith-Njigba has barely seen the field this year while dealing with a hamstring injury. Harrison caught 72 passes for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, earning him first-team All-American honors. Harrison was named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award with Xavier Hutchinson of Iowa State and Jalin Hyatt of Tennessee.
Along with Harrison, Emeka Egbuka was also a part of this year’s Ohio State offense after Smith-Njigba was sidelined. Egbuka caught 66 balls for 1,039 yards and scored nine touchdowns. With both Egbuka and Harrison surpassing 1,000 yards receiving this year, Ohio State has now had a pair of receivers each go over 1,000 yards in back-to-back years, with Smith-Njigba and Garrett Wilson each hitting quadruple digits last season.
While all eyes will be on Harrison and Egbuka, the Buckeyes are going to need big games for wide receiver Julian Fleming and Cade Stover on Saturday. After missing the first two games of the year, Fleming had a stretch where he scored at least one touchdown in five straight games, but he has been pretty quiet recently, catching just 12 passes over the last five games.
Cade Stover has been either boom or bust this year. Against Wisconsin and Indiana, Stover scored two touchdowns each. Then there were games like the Michigan game, where he only had 13 yards on four catches, and missed some crucial plays that would have helped to keep the Buckeyes in the game more than the final score might have indicated. Stover is going to have his hands full not only trying to block some of the freaks Georgia has on defense, but also trying to find some space when his number is called in the pass game.
Chop ‘em down
Where Ohio State is going to need a little more consistency is at running back. The Buckeyes are going into this game shorthanded, since they’ll be without TreVeyon Henderson, who will miss the rest of the season because of a foot injury he has been dealing with all season. When he was able to get on the field, Henderson rushed for 571 yards and six touchdowns.
With Henderson being unavailable the rest of the year, that puts even more pressure on Miyan Williams, who has dealt with his own injury issues at times this season. When healthy, Williams ran for 817 yards and 13 touchdowns on just 125 carries in 2022. On an offense that relies upon finesse, Ohio State desperately could use the tough running that we often see from “Chop”.
Along with Williams in the backfield, the Buckeyes will need a compliment to step up. Dallan Hayden looked like he could be that guy, running for over 100 yards in back-to-back games against Indiana and Maryland while Williams was limited due to injury. Then inexplicably, Hayden only saw two carries against Michigan. Instead, Arizona State transfer Chip Trayanum saw the bulk of the carries against the Wolverines, toting the rock 14 times after getting just one carry in the previous 11 games this year.
Even though Trayanum did have experience at running back during his time at Arizona State, Hayden’s speed and movement running the football is the perfect compliment to the bruising style we see from Williams.
Protect the pocket
To get any offense going, Ohio State’s offensive line will have to hold up against the most athletic defense they have faced all season. Paris Johnson Jr. and the rest of the line have held up well this year, allowing just eight sacks — fifth-fewest in the country. The offensive line has largely kept opponents out of the backfield, with the 44 tackles for loss they’ve given up being the third-lowest total in college football. If the Buckeyes want to have any hope of winning, they have to keep Stroud clean and the Bulldogs out of the backfield.
First line of defense
Following a game where they gave up 45 points to Michigan, Ohio State’s defense has something to prove against Georgia. If the Buckeyes want to have any shot at winning on Saturday night, they are going to need to make things uncomfortable for Stetson Bennett. Ohio State certainly has the talent on the defensive line to create pressure with J.T. Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, Zach Harrison, and others. Even though defensive tackle Michael Hall Jr. leads the team with just 4.5 sacks, the Buckeyes have 13 players with at least one sack this year.
The most consistent players on the Ohio State defense this year have been linebackers Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers. Eichenberg became the first Ohio State linebacker since Raekwon McMillan to surpass 100 tackles, finishing the regular season with 112 stops. The senior from Cleveland has done a lot of the work on his own this year, with his 72 solo tackles topping the Big Ten and ranking second nationally.
One player that can’t wait for kickoff is Steele Chambers, who grew up and played high school football in Georgia. After starting his Ohio State career as a running back, Chambers has transitioned to linebacker, becoming a key part of the Buckeye defense since the middle of 2021. Entering Saturday night’s game, Chambers ranks second on the team with 69 tackles.
The good and the bad
The achilles heel of Ohio State’s defense the last couple years has been in their secondary. Even though safeties Tanner McCalister, Lathan Ransom, and Ronnie Hickman have done a lot of good, cornerbacks Denzel Burke and Cam Brown have been inconsistent. The play from Burke has been especially troubling after he burst onto the scene last year and was looking like he could be the next great cornerback to come out of Ohio State. Brown has been limited by injuries at times this season, which has only allowed him to play in seven games, but hopefully the month off after the Michigan game has allowed him to get back to full strength.
To beat Georgia, the Buckeyes are gonna need the safeties to make the plays we know they are capable of making. After transferring from Oklahoma State to join Jim Knowles in Columbus, McCalister led the team with three interceptions this year. Ransom was third on the team with 65 tackles, and brings a very physical style of play to the game, which is something the Buckeyes will need in trying to slow down Brock Bowers. Hickman has experience having started 23 straight games. “Rocket” will have to show why was named to an AP second-team All-American this year.
Season at a glance
Georgia enters this game having not lost since last year’s SEC Championship Game against Alabama. After avenging the loss in last year’s College Football Playoff Championship Game, the Bulldogs went through this year mostly unthreatened. The only game where they trailed in the fourth quarter came at Missouri. Daijun Edwards scored a touchdown with just over four minutes to go to thwart the upset attempt of the Tigers.
In their 13 games this season, Georgia has outscored their opponents 509-166.
Georgia’s CFP history
This will be Georgia’s third appearance in the College Football Playoff. However, this will be the first time where the Bulldogs won’t meet Alabama in the playoff. At the end of the 2017 season, the Bulldogs beat Oklahoma before falling to the Crimson Tide in overtime. Last season, Georgia routed Michigan and were able to erase a 18-13 deficit in the fourth quarter to earn their first national title since 1980.
This will be Georgia’s 26th consecutive bowl appearance, which is the longest active streak in the nation. In the 59 previous bowl games the Bulldogs have played in they have posted a 35-21-3 record.
A familiar setting
It doesn’t help Ohio State that Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a second home for the Bulldogs. Georgia has already played in two games in Atlanta this year, beating Oregon 49-3 in the season opener, and winning the SEC Championship Game 50-30 over LSU early last month. The Bulldogs also played in the 2021 Peach Bowl at the stadium, squeaking by Cincinnati 24-21.
Georgia was dominant on both sides of the football this year. On offense, the Bulldogs ranked seventh in the country with 491.9 yards per game. Stetson Bennett led an offense that averaged 39.2 points per game, which was 11th-most in the FBS. Even though Bennett doesn’t put up huge numbers, he knows how to win, entering Saturday’s game with a 27-3 record as a starter. This season Bennett threw for over 3,400 yards and tossed 20 touchdowns, earning him a spot as a Heisman Trophy finalist for how he ran the offense of the defending national champions.
What Georgia does a great job of is grinding out their opponents with a strong rushing attack. The Bulldogs averaged 207 yards per game on the ground this year. Even though the Bulldogs didn’t have a running back go for over 1,000 yards this season, they had three backs rush for over 500 yards and combined for 23 rushing touchdowns.
Kenny McIntosh and Daijun Edwards split the workload, with McIntosh carrying the football 137 times for 709 yards, while Edwards rushed for 681 yards on 127 totes. The Buckeyes can’t sleep on Kendall Milton, who averaged 7.4 yards per carry, and is coming off a performance against LSU where he ran for 114 yards on just eight carries, giving him his first 100-yard rushing game of the season.
Ohio State is going to have their hands full trying to slow down the nation’s best tight end, as well as one of the country’s most versatile receivers. The Buckeyes saw Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer in the season opener, but they’ll face an even bigger animal on Saturday in Brock Bowers. Last year Bowers was the SEC’s Freshman of the Year, and this year he was awarded the Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end. Along with his 52 catches for 726 and six touchdowns, Bowers also had three rushing touchdowns, as the Bulldogs try and find creative ways to get the football in his hands.
Along with Bowers, Georgia also has Ladd McConkey, who is a little taller version of Wes Welker or Julian Edelman. McConkey had 51 catches for 675 yards and five touchdowns this season. Even though McConkey isn’t going to blow people away with his size or athleticism, he knows how to get open and make plays. McConkey will undoubtedly frustrate the Buckeyes all game long if the defense can’t get an early handle on how to keep the football out of his hands.
The latest Bulldog beast
Last year Georgia had the most dominant defense in the country. Even though a lot of the players from that unit are now in the NFL, the Bulldogs have reloaded with a new crop of talented defenders. Even scarier is Georgia won’t be at full strength in this game after Nolan Smith tore his pectoral muscle against Florida in late October.
This year’s defense is led be defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who is looking like a top prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft. Carter has seven tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and 25 quarterback pressures. Even though Carter’s numbers might not be huge, the amount of attention he demands on the field is. It’s going to take a big effort from the Ohio State offensive line to keep Carter out of the backfield.
Leading Georgia in tackles this year were Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon Jr., with both being credited with 64 stops. Dumas-Johnson is the team’s MIKE linebacker, while Mondon is more a hybrid linebacker. Dumas-Johnson made more impact plays with three sacks, a forced fumble, and 21 quarterback pressures, while Mondon patrolled more of the middle of the field, and has been compared to Jaylon Smith.
In the Georgia secondary, a name you’ll hear a lot of is Kelee Ringo. The cornerback had 36 tackles, two interceptions, and six pass breakups this season. Even though Ringo is extremely talented, he is still pretty young. This year Ringo is a redshirt sophomore and he’ll be tasked with trying to slow down Harrison and Egbuka. If the Buckeyes can’t get to him early, they could see some cracks in Ringo’s armor.
Safeties Starks and Smith
Much like Ohio State, Georgia fields some great safeties. True freshman Malaki Starks fell just one tackle shy of tying Dumas-Johnson and Mondon for the team lead, and had two interceptions to go along with seven pass breakups. While Starks is a freshman, he is paired with senior Christopher Smith, who nabbed a team-high three interceptions this season. Smith is also a sure tackler, making 50 stops this year.
Does Ohio State have the talent to beat Georgia? There’s no question the Buckeyes do. What is unknown is if the Buckeyes have the coaching and mental toughness to beat the Bulldogs. Kirby Smart has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in America, while Ryan Day is facing intense questioning after losing to Michigan two years in a row.
What the Buckeyes need to do is use the loss to Michigan as fuel to silence their doubters. Not many are giving Ohio State a chance in this game after how the Wolverines were able to hit so many big plays last month in Columbus. It’s not like Ohio State hasn’t been in this position before, as back in the first College Football Playoff they were able to shock an Alabama team that was more than a touchdown favorite.
What remains to be seen is how Day and his staff used the last month to address issues and prepare for what they’ll see from Georgia. Even though Georgia won last year’s, it’s not like Ohio State is unfamiliar with the spotlight and pressure that comes with a game like this. When he is coaching loose, there aren’t many better at coaching that Day. The problem is it feels like Day overthinks himself a lot and gets inside his own head with some of his play calls.
While it’s obvious Day needs to cede the play-calling, it’s not going to happen before next year, if at all, so hopefully he has used the last month to get a better handle on what he wants his offense to do.
What fun is it to write 3,000-plus words on this game if we think Ohio State is going to destroyed by the Bulldogs? The Buckeyes play with a chip on their shoulder in this game after hearing over the last month of how fraudulent they are. What the Buckeyes have to do is keep Georgia guessing, which will mean the offensive line is going to have to find a way to open up some holes for the running backs against the talented defensive line of the Bulldogs. If they are able to do that, it will make Georgia hesitate a bit and give Stroud more time to survey the defense.
In a back-and-forth game, the Buckeyes know how to close out the game, which is something Missouri didn’t have talent to do against the Bulldogs.