Georgia defense braces for big test from Stroud, Ohio State

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Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports
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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.

Clemson gives raises, contract extensions to staff

Ken Ruinard/USA TODAY NETWORK
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson’s board of trustees approved raises for special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach Mike Reed and defensive tackles coach Nick Eason.

Reed and Eason also received one-year extensions keeping them tied to the Tigers through Jan. 31, 2026.

Reed, who’s been with the Tigers since 2013, had his yearly salary increased $50,000 to $800,000. Eason, the former Clemson standout defensive lineman, joined the staff this past season. He also had his compensation upped by $50,000 to $800,000.

Seven other assistants were given one-year extensions by the trustees’ compensation committee, but without a raise in salary.

Co-defensive coordinators Wes Goodwin and Mickey Conn had their contracts extended through Jan. 31, 2026.

Defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall, tight ends coach Kyle Richardson, offensive line coach Thomas Austin, running backs coach C.J. Spiller and wide receivers coach Tyler Grisham all got one-year extensions through Jan. 31, 2025.

New offensive coordinator Garrett Riley last month received a three-year contract at $1.75 million per season.

Clemson will pay its 10 on-field assistants $7.475 million this season, an increase of $925,000 from the total for 2022.

The Tigers went 11-3 last season, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.

South Carolina’s Beamer suspends three freshmen from program

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Corey Perrine/USA TODAY NETWORK
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said freshmen Monteque Rhames II, Anthony Rose and Cameron Upshaw were suspended from the football program.

There was no reason given for the suspensions in the school’s statement Friday. Online records showed Rhames, 18, was booked last night and was being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on charges of carrying weapons on school property and obstructing justice.

“Our student-athletes know what is expected of them,” Beamer said. “They know that both the university and the football program will hold them accountable for their actions and decisions.”

None of the three have played for the Gamecocks.

Rose is a 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back from Miami who enrolled in January 2022 and redshirted this season. Rhames and Upshaw were part of South Carolina’s latest recruiting class and enrolled last month.

Rhames is a 6-5, 235-pound defensive lineman from Sumter and Upshaw is a 6-2, 193-pound safety from Perry, Florida.