ATHENS, Ga. — On paper, the Peach Bowl matchup between No. 1 Georgia’s defense and No. 4 Ohio State’s offense is a test of strengths in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
Georgia (13-0) ranks second in the nation with its average of 12.8 points allowed. Ohio State (11-1) ranks second in scoring 44.5 points per game.
The Georgia defense has extra motivation for the Dec. 31 Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
The Bulldogs will be tested by quarterback C.J. Stroud and the Buckeyes’ high-scoring offense, especially after LSU passed for 502 yards in Georgia’s 50-30 victory in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Even though LSU was playing from behind after Georgia led 35-10 at halftime, the Tigers’ big plays in their passing game may have revealed some vulnerabilities in the Bulldogs’ secondary.
Stroud says Ohio State won’t try to copy LSU’s plan.
“I mean, that’s LSU,” Stroud said earlier this month. “We’ve got to play Buckeye football. And if that means we have to run the ball, then that is what it is. If that means we got to throw, that is what it is.”
At the very least, the proud Georgia defense has had reason to take advantage of the extra time to prepare for the playoff game.
“It just showed some of the things we’ve got to work on, so we have been attacking that in practice and working to get better,” Georgia inside linebacker Smael Mondon said Tuesday, adding that defensive backs and other defensive players have been “staying after practice trying to get more work. Just trying to get better and fix whatever issues we’ve got.”
Mondon had six tackles and his first career interception in the SEC championship game. He knows the bowl game will present a more difficult challenge. Stroud was a Heisman Trophy finalist and the Buckeyes boast perhaps the nation’s top group of wide receivers.
Marvin Harrison Jr. was a first-team AP All-America pick. Another top wide receiver, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, will miss the game as he continues to rehabilitate a leg injury and prepare for the NFL draft. The Buckeyes still have Emeka Egbuka, who had 66 catches for 1,039 yards and nine touchdowns, as the second-leading receiver behind Harrison, who had 72 catches for 1,157 and 12 TDs.
Harrison said the Ohio State offense must “stay on the field.”
“We can’t go three-and-outs,” Harrison said. “Then we get into red zone, guys score touchdowns and not field goals. That’s probably the biggest thing. … We’re gonna need to score a lot of points against Georgia. The defense is probably the best in the country, along with our defense as well, too. But it can be a challenge for us.”
Ohio State’s wide receivers are the challenge for the Bulldogs’ secondary. Georgia defensive tackle Zion Logue‘s focus is on the quarterback.
“Number one, how fast C.J. Stroud gets the ball out of his hands and where he’s looking, who he’s looking to get the ball to,” Logue said. “That’s just been my biggest thing.”
Georgia is the defending national champion and will be playing in a familiar setting. The Bulldogs opened the season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, about 75 miles from the Georgia campus, by beating Oregon 49-3 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game and then returned to the home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons for the SEC championship game.
The Ohio State-Georgia winner will play either Michigan or TCU in the Jan. 9 national championship game in Los Angeles. Georgia is trying to become the first team since Alabama in 2011-12 to win back-to-back national titles.