Ohio State football: First look at top-ranked Georgia

Ohio State earned a second chance to be in the national championship race, and the Buckeyes’ reward is the No. 1 challenge in the nation on Dec. 31 in the Peach Bowl.

Georgia lost 15 players to the NFL Draft in April, but coach Kirby Smart’s team has reloaded and is looking for back-to-back national championships.

Here are seven things to know about the undefeated Bulldogs:

1. Last year, Georgia was defined by defense. This season, coach Kirby Smart’s team is more balanced.

The Bulldogs are 11th in the nation in scoring (39.2 points per game) and seventh in total yards (491.9 yards per game) while getting the job done on the ground (18th, 207 ypg.) and through the air (19th, 284.9 ypg.).

Overall, Georgia is No. 1 in SP+, an advanced stat that measures among other things play-by-play efficiency and explosiveness, with the No. 16 offense and No. 2 defense. Ohio State is third overall in SP+ (behind Michigan) with the No. 4 offense and 15th-ranked defense.

2. Quarterback Stetson Bennett IV makes the offense go.

The sixth-year senior was MVP of the national championship game in January, and he has picked up where he left off.

The Heisman Trophy finalists has 3,425 passing yards (second in the SEC) and 20 touchdown passes (fourth). Bennett ranks in the national top 25 in most categories, including 23rd in efficiency at 154.6.

HIs top target is tight end Brock Bowers, who is ninth in the SEC with 726 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

Georgia has three running backs with more than 500 yards on the ground: Kenny McIntosh (709), Daijun Edwards (681) and Kendall Milton (533).

3. The defense is still tough.

After leading the nation in points allowed per game last season, the Bulldogs are all the way down to No. 2 this year at 12.8.

They have stopped the run better than anyone — 77 yards per game, best in the country — and 11th in passing efficiency defense, but they have given up some yards through the air. Georgia is 52nd in pass defense at 215.1 yards allowed per game.

4. Third down and red zone are strengths for Georgia on both sides of the ball.

The Bulldogs are No. 1 in the nation in red zone offense (scoring 97.2% of the time) and defense (60.7%).

The defense is also No. 1 in touchdown percentage in the red zone (32.1), but Georgia’s touchdown percentage (67.6) on offense is less impressive as it ranks 35th’

They also rank in the top five in third down conversions when they have the ball (51.6%, ranked fifth) and when the opponent has it (26.7%, third).

5. The offensive line is No. 2 in the country in fewest sacks allowed.

The Bulldogs allow only .54 sacks per game, and opponents are only making 3.6 tackles for loss against Georgia, good for fourth the nation.

The UGA front looks good on the advanced stats front, too, ranking No. 21 in Football Outsiders average line yards (which credit the first three yards of a run to the offense and half of the next 4-8 yards on a run to the line to measure how often it makes room to run) and third in sack rate.

The Bulldogs have been just average on short-yardage, though, ranking 66th in conversions on third- or fourth-and-2 or less.

6. The Georgia defense is not built on penetration, and they have not registered many takeaways.

The Bulldogs are 62nd nationally in tackles for loss (5.8 per game) and 78th in sacks (2 per game).

Football Outsiders also back up the latter, ranking the Bulldogs 111th in sack rate, but they are second nationally in average line yards allowed and seventh in short-yardage situations.

Georgia’s 16 takeaways are just 10th in the SEC and 81st nationally.

7. The defending national champions have the talent advantage, barely.

Georgia is No. 2 in 247Sports Talent Composite, which compiles players by recruiting ranks from when they were in high school.

The Bulldogs have 15 players who were five-star recruits and 53 who were given four stars.

Ohio State is just behind them with 14 five-stars and 52 four-stars.

Both are still looking up at Alabama, but they have a sizable advantage over the other two teams still playing for a national championship.

Michigan is 13th in the talent composite while TCU is No. 32. The Wolverines have three five-stars and 41 players who were four-stars while the Horned Frogs have one and 16, respectively.


Saturday, Dec. 31

Ohio State vs. Georgia, 8 p.m., ESPN, 1410

About the Author