The College Football Playoff is set, with the No. 4 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes taking on the No. 1 ranked Georgia Bulldogs in the Peach Bowl. If you ask anyone outside of the Ohio State sphere what the Buckeyes chances are, they’ll probably tell you that they don’t have one.
Georgia is a juggernaut, and over the past few years they are one of the few teams that have out-recruited the Buckeyes. Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart has built a defense that reloads and routinely has stretches of dominance that teams across the country just can’t match. Ohio State’s offense will need to be at its best from a competitive and play-calling standpoint to have success. They can not let Georgia’s defense go on an explosive run that has buried teams these past two seasons.
This shows up statistically, and despite some let down performances in the middle of the season, Georgia has had another dominant campaign. Their offense has been surprisingly explosive and their defense’s reputation has been as advertised. Statistically for Georgia, the hype is well represented across the board.
Average margin of victory against ranked teams
Starting with scoring margin, the Bulldogs have won by an average of 25.8 points per game. This ranks right between Michigan and Ohio State, which makes sense given the three teams are in the College Football Playoff. All three teams have taken care of business on the field, especially against overmatched opponents.
Where Georgia separates in this category is their average scoring margin against ranked teams. Against currently ranked Top-25 teams, the Bulldogs have won by an average margin of 26.7 points. In Ohio State’s two ranked wins, they have won by 11 and 13 points. Georgia has shown up in big games, and both the LSU and Tennessee final scores don’t tell the full story. The Tennessee game had the second half played in a monsoon, and Georgia had the game well in hand from the jump against LSU.
Even with those circumstances, Georgia has been able to find a higher level in meaningful football game.
Red zone scoring percentage
In the modern game of football, defenses have leaned on red zone success as a benchmark for team success. If you can hold teams to field goals and limit the amount of touchdowns scored when the opponent gets to the small part of the field, that is seen as a success. The goal is to limit points, and the best teams in the country excel at this. Conversely, the best offenses are able to convert these opportunities into touchdowns.
Georgia ranks No. 1 in both categories.
On defense, the Bulldogs only give up points on 60.7 percent of red zone trips. That is 4 percent better than the next ranked team, and 19 percent better than the next highest playoff team. They have only allowed 27 trips to the red zone, but that adds to the level of dominance here. Not letting teams get to the red zone is the first step, being dominant when they get there is the separator.
For Georgia, their offensive success is reliant on a solid kicker, a power run game, and elite tight end play with a quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes. They are only 3 percent better than Ohio State here, and this is a place where they differ from the Buckeyes. They have taken 71 trips to Ohio State’s 58. Of those 71 trips for Georgia, they have converted 67 percent into touchdowns, which shows you can limit the points they score.
If the Buckeyes can hold Georgia to field goals, that is a sign of success. Matching that with success by scoring touchdowns on offense is one of the keys to Ohio State winning the football game.
Some other key stats have to do with the offensive and defensive lines of Georgia. They rank with the best groups in the country, which once again should not come as a surprise. The Bulldogs offensive line has only given up seven sacks this year. That is only one better than Ohio State to give context, with Georgia playing one more game. Where both sides are similar in pass-pro, the Buckeyes rank higher in sack percentage and sacks per game defensively.
This is key area for the Buckeyes, and if they can limit Georgia’s interior pass rushers, teams have been able to find success throwing the ball down the field. If they can put the Bulldogs behind the sticks on offense, that takes them out of their comfort zone. Georgia is only giving up sacks on 1.1 percent of drop backs, meaning the Buckeyes will have their work cut out for them. Jim Knowles has shown a willingness to blitz, and if Ladd McConkey is unable to go, I’d expect a higher percentage of blitzes to force Stetson Bennett into some rushed throws.
According to Football Outsiders, Georgia’s offensive line ranks 21st in stuff rate, meaning they are prone to getting stopped for no gain. They also rank 66th in power success rate, meaning in short yardage situations like 3rd-and-1 or situations they need to gain three yards or less – which is another place Ohio State needs to find situational success,
Both teams lines will have a crucial role in this game, and the Buckeyes have had some trouble in short yardage scenarios on both sides of the ball. Given the reputation of Georgia’s defense, they live up to it with defending the power run at a 50 percent clip, good for 7th in the country. Giving up 2.07 average line yards means Ohio State will have to grind for every bit of offense, but if they can find success on early downs, Georgia ranks in the 100s for every pressure stats.
Stats don’t always tell the full story, but this is a natural place to start in comparing the two teams. Both teams have similar stats – as do the other two playoff teams – so the takeaways need to be taken with a grain of salt. Looking at the details gives us an indication that Ohio State and Georgia aren’t separated by as much as the national media would have you believe.
Georgia is a dominant football team. They have risen to the occasion and been dominant in the biggest games on their schedule. Ohio State has shown weaknesses, but the Bulldogs have for stretches as well. As many have predicted for a long time, this will be a game of one great unit versus another. Ohio State’s offense is still explosive and has the dynamic ability to change the game in a snap.
Statistically, these two teams are separated by razor thin margins, and the stats they excel in aren’t the same as each other. This game will be a matchup of differing philosophies, but both teams have found success in their own way. As we know, numbers only tell us how the teams got here. We will know how much they really mean come Dec. 31 in Atlanta.