Okay gang, after weeks of hype and tons of talk it is almost time to tee it up in Atlanta. The Bulldogs and Buckeyes are two teams with tons of narratives around them. Here at DawgsCentral we always do our own homework, and we always show our math before submitting our final answer. I watched half of Ohio State’s games from this season and I watched all of them multiple times. I’ve also dug into their tendencies in preparation for this matchup.
I have a ton of notes to share from the film and a lot of thoughts below them on how I expect this game to go. Let’s dive in…
- The immediate thing that stands out to me watching Ohio State games is that RG #55 Matthew Jones is not very good as a run blocker. He often struggles in short yardage and gets blown off the ball when a good DT lines up over him. He is however a solid pass blocker. On the flip side, LG #74 Donovan Jackson is impressive on tape in the run game. He has some plays where he really mauls DL’s and turns them out of the hole. He isn't as good with his pass protection though. It will be interesting to see if UGA elects to attack Jones with Carter or Stackhouse. This could be a game where Bear Alexander or Warren Brinson is able to create some havoc against Jackson on obvious passing downs.
- Stroud rarely goes all the way under Center. They’re in the Shotgun 66.5% of the time and they are in the Pistol 19.3% of the time. They run Outside Zone a lot from the Pistol and get their lineman moving laterally. Missouri hit UGA with their Outside Zone runs a couple times for big plays. Since then they have defended it really well. I think UGA will know how to play OSU’s Zone Scheme stuff. The Buckeyes run off the end of the line with an Inline TE blocking on almost a third of their rushing attempts.
- On the whole, 42.3% of Ohio State’s rushing attempts go outside the tackles. As for the work they do between the tackles, a lot of it is on the right side of the line. 30% of OSU’s runs this season have gone between Center and Right Guard or Right Guard and Right Tackle. Tally it up and almost 75% of the Buckeyes rushes will involve their RG or go outside the tackles. It’s kind of curious considering my first note on RG #75 Matthew Jones. This tells me UGA should want to line Jalen Carter up across from Jones and let him plug that 30%.
- Ohio State averages just 3.2 YPC when running between Center and LG.
- OSU is a Zone Scheme team but they are more balanced than a lot of UGA’s opponents this season. The Buckeyes run Zone about 2.5 to 1 over Gap Scheme. A lot of their OL has been graded highly but for my money the best run blocker is RT #79 Dawand Jones. Georgia needs to get creative setting edges against him. He’s a good tackle but he can be had by higher level defenders. His PFF run block grade for the season is 83.8, which is the highest on Ohio State’s team. Against Michigan his run block grade was just 56.0.
- This Ohio St offense gets viewed as a wide-open passing attack that tears people up through the air. In reality they are much more balanced. OSU has a Rushing SR of 53.1%. They really aren’t very good when the run isn’t working. They only saw 2nd & 7+ or 3rd & 5+ on 24% of downs this season. On those downs the Buckeyes had just a 24.7% Success Rate. This is not an offense that is comfortable or good when it has to play behind the chains.
- The entire pass game runs through Harrison and Egbuka. Harrison has 108 TGT’s/72 REC’s for 1,157 YDS and Egbuka has 97 TGT/66 REC for 1,039 YDS. The next most targeted player is TE Cade Stover with 48 TGT/35 REC for 399 YDS.
- Harrison is a damn good receiver, but he’s not burning UGA’s secondary for 70-yard bombs unless someone is just totally overplaying a ball or busting an assignment. I have been critical of Ringo at times this year, but this is a matchup that I like for him more than many. Harrison is physical and great in the air, but he isn’t going to blow past #5 like Jameson Williams and he isn’t a super technical route runner. Harrison’s get off is good but it isn’t a release that’s quick enough as to make playing press coverage or tight cushions a dangerous proposition for the Bulldogs. All of that doesn’t mean Harrison will be shutdown or even held under 100 yards, but it does mean that I would be really surprised if he breaks this game open with 180 YDS and 2+ TD’s. I really like Georgia’s chances playing him in the Red Zone.
- Stover is not a blocking TE on many plays. If the ball is being thrown then he is running a route 80% of the time. OSU will use him in play-action/RPO situations at times. They will hit him on delayed routes into the flat or try to use WR’s to pick his man and get him open in traffic. (OSU/UM Drive 1)
- I think UGA can live with Harrison doing some things in this game. He can’t go off for 200+ YDS, but if he catches 5 balls for 105 YDS it’s fine. The real matchup here is Bullard vs Egbuka. If Egbuka can’t win against Bullard frequently in the slot then I think OSU is going to lose the middle of the field and be stuck asking Stroud to make high level throws down the sidelines…
- Stroud is only 3/12 on 20+ YDS throws down the left sideline this year. He is 7/16 on 20+ YDS throws down the right sideline and 15/26 on throws of 20+ YDS between the numbers. If Ringo/Starks have their coverages and assignments figured out on Harrison’s side we could see this game get lopsided. I am also wondering if UGA will let Lassiter have a go against Harrison. In my opinion he is the best CB on this team. Either way, I think Ringo & Lassiter are the type of corners you want against a guy like Harrison. They can both play press and are physical. They have enough size to keep from being bullied by him. If Ringo has a good day playing the ball in the air then Georgia could come close to shutting OSU down.
- Stroud is really good when his first read is open. If he gets to throw in rhythm then watch out, because he is very good. The problem for Stroud? That’s not how most football games tend to go. He bails out of the pocket fast. If pressure is starting to come then he tends to move off his spot quickly. Once that happens he isn’t very intuitive and he doesn’t have great feel. He does not throw well on the run.
- Against Michigan, Stroud was only pressured 11 times. That loss wasn’t a failure of the OL in pass protection. That’s a good sign for a Georgia team that hasn’t been great at getting to the QB with four since Nolan Smith went day. OSU also gained 5.6 Yards Per Carry. This is a good OSU offensive line, but that 5.6 YPC isn’t that great when you realize the Buckeyes allowed 7.9 Yards Per Carry against the Wolverines.
- Looking back on Ohio State’s opening script in the Michigan game is interesting. The Buckeyes didn’t start out testing the middle of the field early. On their first drive they threw the ball to the boundaries, ran reverses, screens, etc. Then they came back to the center with some inside runs. With Carter and Dumas-Johnson patrolling the middle I think UGA can control the A-Gaps and B-Gaps. The question is how they will set the edge. Mykel Williams should be good enough. Who does it on the other side and how consistently will they set their edge? That will go a looooonnnnggg way to determining this football game.
- Stroud stares down his first read hard sometimes, especially when it is Harrison. He is right to trust #18 in contested situations, but he waits for something to open with him long enough for a good safety to jump the route at times. I think Christopher Smith or Malaki Starks might walk away with an INT (or two) on Saturday.
- Against OSU, the Wolverines had 7 ATT’s for 175 YDS when running in the gap between the Center & RG. Michigan RB’s only forced 2 missed tackles on those runs. Just 51 of those yards came after contact. Those are some UGLY run fits at the second level. The question for the purpose of this preview is whether or not that’s a predictably sustainable problem for OSU. I would lean towards no and say they will fit the run better than they did against Michigan.
- There was a noticeable difference in the level of violence between OSU’s DL and Michigan’s DL in that game. I don’t think OSU’s interior line can do much to be problematic against Georgia unless the Bulldogs are just busting assignments and not communicating. Nobody on this interior is capable of wrecking a game.
- The two big pass rushers at Edge for OSU are Zach Harrison and JT Tuimoloau. They are both very good players. I don’t think they are great players like UGA faced in Indy last year with Will Anderson and Dallas Turner. I like Jones and Mims chances of holding them in check, especially with Darnell Washington available as an Inline blocker.
- Both Harrison and Tuimoloau line up outside the tackle on over 95% of their snaps. Harrison is a pretty good run defender. He doesn’t make a ton of tackles but he plays his edge and is gap sound. On the flip side, Tuimoloau is not. He misses tackles on over 25% of attempts and is one of the worst run defenders on Ohio State’s team. If the Buckeyes have the gall to put him in the game on anything other than 3rd & 6+ then Georgia should run the ball right at him.
- Safety #12 is Latham Ransom. He isn’t a very impressive tackler, especially when he is coming downhill to defend a screen or a play in the flats. Love UGA’s chances of busting a TE Screen to Bowers for a big play in this game
- LB #35 Tommy Eichenberg is not a player who impresses me in pass coverage for a game like this. He’s not a good enough athlete to cover UGA’s tight ends and I think UGA can beat him to the edge on swing passes to McIntosh. On the season Eichenberg has allowed 23 REC on 28 TGT’s for 160 YDS. I do think Eichenberg is a strong blitzer. He doesn’t come often but he is productive when asked to rush the passer. Something to watch in this game is whether or not OSU can afford to pull him out of coverage/tackling responsibilities to cut him loose against Bennett. (OSU vs MD Clip 4)
- LB #22 Steele Chambers is another one of the OSU linebackers allowing a high reception percentage (79.3%) 29 TGT/23 REC for 157 YDS. He’s not a very impressive tackler when he has to go up against someone in the open field.
- CB #10 Denzel Ward gets a lot of hype. He has only allowed a 54.1% reception percentage this year, which is best among the regulars in the Buckeye secondary. On the flip side when he gets beat he gets beat badly. He has allowed 316 YDS this year on just 20 receptions. 37 TGT/20 REC.
- Contrary to Georgia, OSU does not seem comfortable leaving their corners in man coverage very much. They only play Man Coverage on 36% of downs and when they do they are often blitzing. When OSU blitzes they don’t bluff. The Buckeyes come with 5 or 6 rushers on over 85% of their blitz packages. When they do that they play man on the back end. They’re only playing Man Coverage and NOT blitzing on very rare occasions. That is GREAT news for Georgia. UGA hasn’t been great against Man this year because the WR’s haven’t gotten loose very much. Bennett excels at picking windows against the Zone and he will do that a lot in this game. Worth noting, SBIV and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint have a strong report in this regard. I expect you will see MRJS make a big catch or two on 2nd/3rd & long in this game on deep in-breaking routes.
- Another piece of OSU’s defensive scheme is that what you see is often what you get. If they blitz they just come with it and play Man Coverage on the back end. That means Bennett shouldn’t have to worry much about OSU showing 6 pass rushers and then dropping an Edge into coverage. Bennett should be able to trust what he reads presnap on 95% of plays.
- When OSU’s pass rush can’t get home things go poorly for them. They play a lot of Zone Coverage as I mentioned above, but they don’t communicate well enough to run it effectively against teams who have competent offensive lines. There are a lot of miscommunications between the CB’s and Safeties that lead to coverage busts on the back end. If Stetson Bennett scrambles out of the pocket and keeps plays alive on Saturday night there will be guys open downfield.
- The 3 teams that OSU struggled with on defense this year- Michigan, Maryland, Penn State. All have serviceable mobile quarterbacks by Big Ten standards. The second level of this defense, and the safeties in particular, will bite up too early at times when a QB breaks contain. I’m almost wondering if they will be overcoached on this to where they play Bennett too soft on Saturday and he’s able to use his legs, but admittedly that is purely me speculating. I would roll the pocket early and tell Bennett to keep a Zone-Read or two in the first quarter. I think UGA would be wise to put on a QB Draw at some point as well. Anything Monken can do to make those safeties and linebackers overthink Bennett’s legs will payoff big time in the second half.
= CB #26 Cameron Brown only played 13 coverage snaps against Michigan. The Wolverines targeted him 5 times and that lead to 4 catches for 92 YDS and 1 TD. It will be interesting to see what OSU elects to do in this game. He played in both boundary CB spots at times against UM. Cornelius Johnson was just noticeably faster than him. He was beaten badly on multiple occasions.
- These OSU linebackers look really good on the field against Iowa, Wisconsin, etc… I do have questions about the level of team speed on the back seven of this defense. I just don’t think they are very fast.
Final Analysis/Score Prediction
UGA Defense vs OSU Offense
Much like the game that UGA played against Tennessee in November, this game is really about something different than what most football fans think it will be. Ohio State, for all the gaudy passing stats and big numbers by Harrison & Egbuka, is really dependent on being able to run the football. The Buckeyes receivers force your CB’s to play out wide and your safeties to be deep to help over the top. That means you have to play the run with a numbers disadvantage in the box.
I think UGA may elect to go with Ingram-Dawkins over Beal on the edge in certain situations and ask him to bully the Buckeyes in the run game. He and Mykel Williams should be able to control that Outside Zone pretty well, and I trust the Stackhouse/Carter/Dumas-Johnson/Mondon group to control the middle of the line when OSU decides to run it. OSU has a nice offensive line. They don’t have a nasty one though. They may get a nice run here or there, but I need to see someone living off an efficient ground game against a Kirby Smart defense before I predict it to happen. I just don’t think Ohio State can run the ball in this one.
Ohio State doesn’t live on big plays as much as you might think. They really rely on dinks and dunks and productive if not explosive runs to keep them in 3rd-and-manageable situations. Fun fact for you- CJ Stroud has 54 passing attempts of 20+ YDS this season. Stetson Bennett has 52. Why do I bring that up?
The idea that OSU is a big strike offense is a false one. To beat Georgia they will have to turn into something overnight that they have not been all season and hit some long home runs for touchdowns on Saturday night. In my opinion it bodes well for UGA if OSU is consistently having to work against the Bulldogs in the Red Zone to finish drives.
When I see CJ Stroud I see a player who is very talented, but not necessarily comfortable under pressure. He doesn’t often play his best games in his biggest games. Granted, that reputation can change in four quarters, but I look at Stroud and I see a thrower who is not very comfortable when his first read doesn’t come clean. He can make some God-tier throws that make you mutter cuss words under your breath, but he just doesn’t look comfortable doing it over and over.
I would be pretty surprised if Georgia is able to get pressure on the edges very much in this game. If the Bulldogs are getting pressure with four consistently this could be a massive beat down. I think UGA is going to finally pull the Ace in the hole on Saturday and throw a lot of blitz packages at Stroud that have not been put on tape this year. UGA still has a big section of the playbook that we have not seen yet, and unlike Hendon Hooker or some of the other QB’s UGA has faced previously, Stroud does not have legs that will be a huge threat in this game. I think Georgia can cut loose without much risk. If they get a couple hits on Stroud early on Saturday he may start bailing out of the pocket just at the sight of blitzing LB’s. That would leave the Buckeyes rudderless.
I have talked all year in 12 Takeaways about how efficient Dumas-Johnson and Mondon are when they are asked to rush the passer. I expect them to do more of it in this game than they have all year. If I was calling UGA’s defense I would have a few packages with Mondon lined up on the edge to blitz the passer and Dumas-Johnson/Marshall at ILB. If Georgia gets a sack or two early in this game it will be a big deal and you should note that. The strength of Georgia’s pass rush is up the middle. The weakness of OSU’s pass protection is in the same spot. Advantage: Georgia.
As for those vaunted Ohio State wideouts… They’re damn good. I am not here to overlook or disrespect them. On the other hand, I can’t unsee the way that Iowa made them struggle. I can’t unsee Maryland’s secondary being in their hip pockets a ton when the two played in College Park. I can’t get over Michigan handcuffing them in the Red Zone either.
My take is that UGA will give up some plays through the air in this one. It’d be impossible not to with Egbuka and Harrison out there. Still, when money downs come and OSU needs to go to the End Zone on 3rd & Goal from the 8, I like Georgia’s chances.
How the refs call pass interference in this game is a big subplot to watch in this one. This is going to be a PAC-12 officiating crew, and I would assume it is the same one that called the P12 Championship between USC and Utah. They let the Utes play the USC wideouts pretty tough in that one. That is more good news for the Bulldogs.
As I said above, I like Ringo’s chances against Harrison more than I would against a twitchier wideout and I love Javon Bullard’s odds of making life hard for Emeka Egbuka. Stroud is comfortable letting it fly to the boundary for Harrison on a Stop Fade. He is less equipped to hit Egbuka on a tight throw over the middle, and he is likely to stare that throw down for awhile if it is called. He is used to having a long time to wait for his WR’s to come open and he is used to playing slower secondaries that can’t stay with his wideouts as a play develops. Those windows won’t come open as quickly or as often against Georgia.
OSU Defense vs UGA Offense
There has been a stat thrown out some in the lead up to this game- Ohio State’s passing defense is 2nd in the FBS against RB/TE and 109th in the FBS against WR’s. While there are grains of truth in that info, the reality isn’t hat OSU has not faced a TE group like Bowers and Washington because one does not exist.
Maybe the Buckeyes are able to stick on Bowers/Washington some in the pass game. I don’t believe they can stop UGA’s run game out of its 12 Personnel (two TE) sets. Don’t be surprised if Georgia comes out and runs it at OSU early. The Buckeyes may be faced to go heavier with their personnel against the Georgia TE’s. At that point, the matchups will start to open up more and more for the Bulldogs.
The thing I am most certain of in this game is Georgia’s ability to run on OSU. I think the Bulldogs will be able to do it early and often and I believe their passing game will operate more easily because of that rushing threat.
I think Georgia will be able to handle this Ohio State DL for the most part in both the running and passing games. As I detailed in my notes above, Harrison and Tuimoloau are a lot less scary when you have Darnell Washington there to help your Tackles.
The internet called me crazy last year when I said this in the lead up to the Michigan game, and I am going to say it again this year about Ohio State- Georgia has a MAJOR team speed advantage in this game. The aforementioned stat about OSU stopping RB/TE’s in the passing game is rendered a bit meaningless when they haven’t seen guys who block on the edge like UGA’s skill players do. It’s rendered even more meaningless when you remember that Georgia has Kenny McIntosh. I think #6 is going to have a big game making some key plays on the perimeter. Don’t be surprised if Georgia hits him for a deep ball at some point Saturday night.
For all of the reasons mentioned above, I think that Georgia could actually come out and run a lot of the same screens that they killed Michigan with in the first half of last year’s Orange Bowl. With how poorly the Buckeyes secondary tackles I would make them prove they can do it early. Why take hard yards with high depth of target throws if the easy yards are just sitting there?
On the perimeter, I can’t help but feel like AD Mitchell is primed for a big game. OSU has let #1 WR’s go off a lot this year. Mitchell can run some routes that will shred this defense. If Ladd McConkey looks like his usual self he could have a big evening as well, but don’t forget about Arian Smith, Kearis Jackson, Dom Blaylock, Rosemy-Jacksaint, etc. Those players haven’t been featured a ton down the stretch, but any of them could have a big play or two that busts open this game.
Ohio State played a few different guys at Slot Corner against Michigan. None of them were really effective. I think UGA could feast in the slot with both its TE’s and its traditional wideouts. It’s also worth mentioning that instability at Slot CB isn’t going to help them defend Georgia’s outside run game either.
When this matchup was announced I was a bit worried for UGA. The Buckeyes are in a similar position to the one Georgia was in this time last year. They will be motivated and they have nothing to lose, but the truth is that Georgia is pissed. They’re always pissed for games like this because Kirby Smart is good at making them feel that way. I trust UGA’s staff in this spot more than I do OSU’s.
When you turn on the tape it becomes evident pretty quickly that UGA is equipped to play this game on any level. They can go fast, they can be methodical, they can play a ground and pound style, they can air it out and go tempo for 80-yard TD drives in five plays… That is the genius of the Monken/Smart partnership. They drilled this team all year to win games however they may need to be won. If something isn’t working they can pivot and adjust. This UGA offense is equally comfortable playing a game in the 20’s as it is in the 50’s. As for Ohio State, they spent all year doing what they do. If they can’t do that it feels like things could go south quickly.
Georgia isn’t going to make the same coverage mistakes it did against LSU unless it is once again up 35-7 and shifting into soft zones that are foreign to guys who are used to manning up across the field. Even if the Bulldogs do end up in that scenario, I can promise you Ringo/Starks have gotten their switches figured out. Georgia rarely gets exposed the same way twice in a row.
In the end, I trust Georgia in this spot. OSU’s offense is to be respected. It can go off if the conditions are right, but I trust the Bulldog brain trust to keep that from happening on anything like a catastrophic scale. I don’t think OSU is scoring a ton on UGA, so I must ask myself what I think about the Georgia offense in this game. When I look at the tape I think it is possible they could go for 50 on this same field once again. Then I remember that Kirby Smart will want to get out healthy and save some good stuff for the National Championship against Michigan.
Georgia 41 - Ohio State 20