If you would have told Ohio State fans 35 days ago that their favorite team would spend their New Year’s Eve playing for a spot in the national championship game, I imagine that you would have been met varying levels of confusion with apprehension. Nonetheless, the No. 4 Buckeyes will kick off against the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs at 8 p.m. ET in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in the second of two College Football Playoff semifinal matchups happening this afternoon.
For the first time this season, Ryan Day’s crew will enter a game as the underdog, with UGA currently sitting as six-point favorites. The defending national champions will present an interesting challenge for the Buckeyes tonight; while they share some offensive DNA with the Michigan Wolverines, they come to their run-first offense much differently. The Dawgs’ most dynamic offensive weapons are likely to be tight ends Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington. Bowers — who is 6-foot-4, 240 pounds — leads the team with 726 receiving yards and six touchdowns, and Washington — 6-foot-7 (yes, 6-foot-7) and 270 lbs. — has 417 and two.
It will be interesting to see how OSU’s defensive coordinator Jim Knowles attempts to contain the mass of humanities posing as pass-catchers. Since the Buckeyes tend to play with just two linebackers, they will either need to change their primary defensive scheme to add another bigger body onto the field, do they attempt to walk up one of their bigger safeties to mark him, or is this the moment that Ohio State decides to employ their secret weapon of true-freshman 6-foot-4, 222-pound safety Sonny Styles?
It might be too early to make Styles the primary defender on one of these tight ends, but his presence in a defensive rotation could be the perfect type of bowl-season addition that OSU could make that Georgia would have no ability to prepare for.
On the other side of the ball, the fate of the Buckeyes’ chances might hinge on how well they can contain unanimous All-America defensive tackle Jalen Carter. Even though he missed a decent amount of time, he still recorded seven tackles for loss and three sacks and has the ability to blow up any play that he’s on the field for. Fortunately, though, he is an interior defensive lineman, which Ohio State has had a better track record against — we certainly don’t want to see a repeat of last year’s rivalry game in which Michigan’s Aiden Hutchinson and David Ojabo wreaked havoc coming from the outside.
However, Ohio State’s starting right guard Matthew Jones is still dealing with the lingering effects of a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the Michigan game five weeks ago. While guards have the benefit of being able to double-team defensive linemen with the help of centers and tackles, anything that limits Jones’ ability to move could pose a problem in attempting to keep quarterback C.J. Stroud’s jersey clean.
Ultimately, tonight’s matchup will be a battle of strengths-on-strengths with Ohio State’s No. 2 ranked scoring offense facing off against Georgia’s No. 2 scoring defense, and when UGA has the ball, the Bulldogs have the 10th-rated scoring offense vs. OSU’s 13th-ranked scoring defense.
Ohio State coaches this week have talked about the necessity to score in at least the 30s, if not the 40s, in order to have a chance to win. If the Buckeyes can find a way to keep scoring near their season average, they should have a pretty decent shot to win the game. However, I tend to think that Ohio State’s defense will fare better against the Dawgs’ offense than many are anticipating, so I would not be surprised if it ends up being under the total points mark of 62.5 that DraftKings Sportsbook has set for the game.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Game Date/Time: Saturday, Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. ET
Location: Atlanta, Ga.
Online: Sling TV
Radio: 97.1 FM | 1460 AM
DraftKings Sportsbook line: Georgia -6 | o/u 62.5
Official LGHL Prediction: Ohio State 31, Georgia 27
Matt’s Heart Prediction: Ohio State 31, Georgia 30
Matt’s Head Prediction: Georgia 42, Ohio State 24
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Below is your Ohio State vs. Georgia GameThread. Be respectful, be kind and — as always — keep it classy, BuckeyeNation. If you like GIFs, lay ‘em on us. In all, be good fans, cheer for your teams, be cool to each other (even if somebody else isn’t) and everyone wins. Let’s finish the season strong!