Ohio State vs. Georgia Picks and Predictions
OHIO STATE VS. GEORGIA PICKS AND PREDICTIONS - New Year’s Eve ushers in the College Football Playoff semi-final match ups. In the 8pm game, the #1 Georgia Bulldogs square up against the #4 Ohio State Buckeyes. As a Georgia fan, I was hoping UGA would avoid playing Ohio State in the playoffs.
I think they have the most talent of the remaining teams and present the greatest threat to the Dawgs. Each team brings award-winning players and a Heisman trophy finalist.
Ohio State made it to the playoff through a series of fortunate events. After losing their final game against Michigan and missing out on the Big 10 Championship game, the Buckeyes appeared to be finished.
Then, when Oregon lost and USC dropped their conference championship game against Utah, the door open for the Bucks to sneak into the playoff. Ryan Day and company have received an unexpected second chance. Their new lease on life will surely have them motivated for Saturday’s game.
The Bulldogs come in off of winning the SEC Championship against the LSU Tigers. Despite surrendering 500 yards of passing to the Tigers, the Dawgs had such a dominant first half that they still cruised to victory.
The Buckeyes are exactly the team you’d expect them to be based on previous seasons.
They have an immensely talented QB in CJ Stroud with several key weapons on the outside. Marvin Harrison II leads a talented group of receivers. His 1,110 yards and 12 touchdowns make him one of, if not the, most talented receivers in the nation.
However, defenses cannot key in on just him, as Emeka Egbuka has 1000 yards receiving himself. Julian Fleming is no slouch, although his production has not compared to Egbuka’s or Harrison’s this year.
Egbuka and Harrison are known more for their size and catch radius than pure speed. Ohio State will miss Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who has decided to prepare for the draft after missing almost the entire season due to an injury.
The Buckeyes also will be missing RB Treveyon Henderson. I thought fellow back Miyan Williams would be ready to go, but he wasn’t seen at practice on Wednesday. His status is questionable this week, but I’m guessing he’ll be good to go. He averaged 6.5 YPA this season. At 225 lbs, he is a load to bring down. Freshman Dallan Hayden has been a contributor this Eason as well with 510 yards and 5 tds.
The Offensive Line
Ohio State boasts one of the more impressive offensive line units in the nation. Their offensive tackles are massive.
Paris Johnson II may be the first tackle drafted in ‘23. UGA recruited him hard as the top ranked tackle before he wound up in Columbus. He plays at 6’6, 315 pounds.
Dawand Jones sits opposite of Johnson, and he dwarfs him. Jones is 6’8 and 375 lbs. He was not a highly recruited player, but has earned his job over time. The interior of the line isn’t as strong as the tackles, but they still are solid. Rumors are one of the guards is dealing with an ankle injury, which UGA will try to take advantage of.
Together, this offensive unit is one of the best in the nation, averaging 44.5 points per game, which is the second best in the nation.
Defensively, Ohio State has several impressive defensive linemen and linebackers. Tommy Eichenberg is the team’s leading tackler at linebacker with almost double the total tackles of the next linebacker. Zach Harrison and J.T. Tuimoloau are two formidable defensive ends that could cause a lot of issues for the Dawgs. Jack Sawyer, also on the D-line, leads the team with 4.5 sacks. The Buckeye’s secondary is the weakness of their defense, particularly on the outside. Their corners can be taken advantage of at times.
Jim Knowles is the Defensive Coordinator. When he dials up pressure, it’s rarely just 5 players. He brings heavy blitzes to disrupt the opposing offenses. However, this leaves their corners in one-on-one coverage and they can be picked on.
Georgia is led by Heisman-finalist Stetson Bennett, who surprised everyone by winning the National Championship last year.
He won the Orange Bowl and National Championship MVP awards and will look to add a Peach Bowl MVP to his accolades.
He gets back his most talented receiver in AD Mitchell, who is finally healthy after missing almost the entire year. However, UGA’s leading receiver Ladd McConkey is dealing with a leg injury that may limit him during the game. While he has been practicing, he was not seen in Wednesday’s practice session that was open to the media.
The Dawgs also boast the two best tight ends in the national in Darnell Washington and Brock Bowers. Washington is an athletic freak, who has the size to play offensive tackle if he wanted. Instead, he catches balls over the middle and pancakes linebackers at the second level. Bowers will have several plays dialed up just for him, which could be over the middle, fades to the outside, or an end-around in the back field.
UGA uses 3 running backs in rotation. Kenny McIntosh is their primary back, who has great hands out of the backfield. Twice this year, he has led the team in receiving yards, including against Oregon to start the season. Daijun Edwards runs between the tackles as well as anyone, finding holes in tight spaces. Kendal Milton is physically their largest back, and has come on strong at the end of the season. Finally healthy in what feels like two years, Milton has railed off long touchdown runs in the 4th quarter in the last couple of games.
UGA’s offensive line is a strength as well. Their center and left tackle will head to the NFL after this year. Their starting right tackle may be injured or limited, but the back up has enough experience and plenty of talent. Where UGA can be vulnerable on their offensive line is their guards, who have inconsistent play.
Defensively, UGA has one guy you have to account for on each play: Jalen Carter. Carter will be a top 5 draft pick next year, if not the first off the board. He is a game-wrecker.
While he does take some plays off, he also has a gear he can hit on key downs that no one has been able to consistently stop yet. If he can prey on Ohio State’s interior line, CJ Stroud is in for a long day, and the Bucks won’t be able to run as effectively.
The other key playmakers from Georgia come in the safety positions.
Senior Chris Smith makes big plays in the biggest games. He had the pick-6 against Clemson last year, the returned field goal for a touchdown in the SEC Championship, and a pick against Oregon. He rarely misses assignments and has developed enough instincts to have great closing speed when needed.
Freshman safety Malaki Starks is a super-star in the making. He will play a key role in this game in shutting down the Buckeye passing game. CB Kelee Ringo also will have his hands full covering Harrison. Ringo is asked to do more than UGA’s other corners, so he has had up-and-down performances this year. DB Javon Bullard is also a playmaker for the Dawgs.
Ohio State will need to hit some explosive plays in the passing game for the Buckeyes to win this game.
While all eyes will be on Harrison and Ringo, the more important match up might actually be Javon Bullard vs Emeka Egbuka. Ringo and a safety will likely bracket Harrison for much of the game, so can Bullard shut down Egbuka in the slot?
Bullard is excellent at tackling and covering short routes. He can be vulnerable on the deeper routes.
Meanwhile, I actually think Ringo matches up better against Harrison than some may think. Harrison is big, not a burner. Ringo’s struggles less with big receivers and more when he can’t match their speed and recover after getting beat.
The Ohio State receivers vs. the UGA DB’s is certainly a match up to watch and what everyone has been and will be talking about during the game. I expect Ohio State’s receivers to get theirs against UGA. Harrison could easily have a 100 yard game. UGA needs to make sure he doesn’t go for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns.
One key match up that I don’t see people talking about that will have to go Ohio State’s way for them to win is their D-line vs UGA’s O-line.
If Zach Harrison and J.T. Tuimoloau can pressure Stetson Bennett into making some poor throws, UGA’s dynamic passing offense can be stopped. UGA has successfully protected Stetson all year.
What happens if he takes 3 sacks and throws an INT because of pressure? The whole game can change.
If Harrison and Tuimoloau can’t get home against UGA, Bennett should feast against this secondary and linebackers who don’t show the same level of speed. Ohio State will blitz heavily during the game and UGA will have answers for that. But what if they don’t have to blitz to get to Bennett? To me, this will be one of the key factors in this game.
Who Can Run the Ball?
Ultimately, every single time that the media talks all about the passing attack of one teams, in reality the running success of the teams will actually determine who wins.
Whichever team is better able to establish the run against the other I think is more likely to win this game than the team who finds more success through the air.
UGA has the advantage here. Tuimoloau is a good pass rusher, but is not as effective against the run. The Dawgs should run at him a few times. Ohio State runs outside of the tackles more than Georgia is used to defending.
One potential problem area for the Dawgs is facing against their best run blocker in RT Dawand Jones. Jones can maul his defenders, and UGA is missing their best player to set the edge. UGA needs to find a consistent answer for setting the edge against Jones, or Ohio State will find success in the run.
Another factor for Ohio State’s success will be them breaking tendencies.
CJ Stroud doesn’t do as well under pressure and often refuses to take open running lanes. In this game, Stroud doesn’t have to run the ball 12 times. But he needs to take off when presented with an opportunity so that Georgia has to account for his legs. 4-5 well-timed runs on 2nd or 3rd down could help the Buckeyes immensely.
If Stroud won’t run, he’ll need to be consistently accurate all game long. He’s certainly capable of doing so, but he also heavily relies on rhythm passing routes for his success. Get him out of rhythm, and he’s not quite as good. However, even when things begin to break down, he has a great bail-out option in just throwing it up for Harrison to make a play. UGA will do everything they can to take away that first rhythm throw for Stroud.
Ohio State is one of the best teams in scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Georgia’s defense is one of the best red-zone defenses in the country. So, who wins this match up? If UGA hold Ohio State to 3 points instead of 7 a couple of times when the Buckeyes get into the red zone, that should be enough for the Dawgs to win.
Ohio State is the most talented team top-to-bottom that is left in the playoff. In many ways, they have everything you’d need to beat UGA: a talented QB, NFL quality receivers, some defensive studs, and depth.
For comparison, LSU tends to keep their interior defensive linemen in for the entire game because they lack depth in that role. Ohio State is like Georgia in that they will rotate in a bunch of guys to keep players fresh.
However, I still believe that UGA is the best team and the best coached team in the nation.
If the Dawgs bring their A-game, they beat anyone. Despite the challenges that Ohio State brings, I think Coach Smart will have his defense ready and Todd Monken will have the offense dialed in.
Every time that I have doubted Georgia this year, they have proved me wrong. I have my doubts, but I’m going to assume they continue to bring their best performances for the biggest games.
Georgia 38 - Ohio State 27