Georgia has already faced two top-10 passing offenses this year. Both of those games went well for the Bulldogs.
Kirby Smart and company have had a couple of close calls this season, but their matchups with Mississippi State and Tennessee were not among them. Georgia blew out the former by 26 on Nov. 12, holding the (other) Bulldogs – the ninth-best pass attack in the country – to 261 yards passing. With a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback (Hendon Hoooker) and the Biletnikoff Award winner at wide receiver (Jalin Hyatt), the Vols mustered 195 yards through the air in a two-touchdown loss to the Bulldogs on Nov. 5.
Each of those teams averages more passing yards per game than the Buckeyes, who rank 14th in the nation at 291.4 yards per game. But Georgia has been wowed by what it’s seen from the scarlet and gray passing game just the same, and it isn’t acting like Ohio State will be a duplicate of any unit it’s taken on prior.
“I’d say they’re pretty unique in themselves. They do a lot of things that are different, and they’re very good at what they do,” Georgia defensive back Kamari Lassiter said Monday. “They’ve got a very dynamic quarterback and really good guys outside in the backfield as well. They’re pretty unique just with what they do and how well they do it.”
It starts with CJ Stroud, whose 176.3 passer rating and 37 touchdown passes are the highest figures of any opposing quarterback Georgia has played this year. In fact, they’re the top marks in the country.
“To see him grow, he’s always had tremendous arm strength and touch and velocity on throws, but he’s become a complete quarterback there in their system.” – Kirby Smart on CJ Stroud
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart doesn’t need much of a reminder about just how good the Buckeyes’ two-time Heisman Trophy finalist is. Smart recruited Stroud out of Rancho Cucamonga High School years ago, a process he still remembers in close detail, and said he’s seen Stroud take considerable strides since then.
“I loved his mom, man. What a tremendous woman. She’s awesome. Went all the way across the country and got to sit in his home and visit with him,” Smart said Monday. “He has a really good disposition about him. He’s not real high, not real low, not real emotional. He keeps a really level head, which to me, at quarterback, is one of the number one qualities you can find. He came on a visit to our place as well, and got to see him at the Heisman. He’s just matured. To see him grow, he’s always had tremendous arm strength and touch and velocity on throws, but he’s become a complete quarterback there in their system.”
Eight of Ohio State’s opponents this season give up fewer than the 215.1 passing yards Georgia gives up per game on average, a figure that ranks just 49th in the nation. In those eight games, matchups against Penn State, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Michigan, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Toledo and Iowa, Stroud averaged 261.3 yards per game with a total of 21 touchdowns.
It doesn’t hurt that Stroud has arguably the best wide receiver in college football to throw to, as Marvin Harrison Jr. has tallied 72 catches for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns through his first 12 games as a true sophomore. In those same eight games against pass defenses that gave up fewer yards than Georgia, Harrison averaged 79.9 yards per game with five receiving scores.
“He’s a really good player. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s very physical. He’s a big, long guy with a pretty big catch radius. He just seems like he pays attention.”– UGA CB Kamari Lassiter on Marvin Harrison Jr.
For the Bulldogs, neutralizing Harrison’s ability to make game-changing plays downfield will be as important as anything when it comes to limiting the points Stroud and company put on the board through the air.
“He’s a really good player. I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Lassiter said. “He’s very physical. He’s a big, long guy with a pretty big catch radius. He just seems like he pays attention. He has a lot of attention to detail during the game, which makes him a pretty good player.”
No. 8 in total yards per game and No. 2 in points allowed, Georgia’s defense is considered perhaps the best in the country for a reason. But it’s not because it’s blanked every pass attack it’s played this season. LSU’s 37th-ranked passing offense put up 502 yards and three touchdowns against the Bulldogs through the air in Georgia’s most recent contest, and most of that came with the Tigers employing a backup quarterback.
The SEC Championship Game alone proves that the Georgia pass defense is far from impenetrable, given the matchup, and the Bulldogs are aware of that fact. Especially in a contest against the Buckeyes.
“Ohio State definitely has a lot of great receivers, great quarterbacks, and we’ve got a lot of respect for them. I said during the LSU game, not trying to backtrack too far, but we did have some lapses during that game in the second half,” Lassiter said. “We just really needed to recenter and refocus after that win and during this time off and just get back to the basics of Georgia football.”
Regarding yardage, Georgia had four of its six worst performances defending the pass all season in its final four games before the Peach Bowl. Then again, Ohio State averaged 43 fewer yards per game through the air in its last six games of the regular season than it did in the first six and tossed 12 fewer scores in that same span.
Georgia’s defensive backfield has treated its leadup to the College Football Playoff as an opportunity to tighten up the holes that were exposed in its most recent contest, refocusing on fundamentals ahead of the Peach Bowl.
“In the secondary, we’ve just been harping on technique and working on our base coverages, working on day one things and just mainly technique and gaining more confidence and stuff like that,” Lassiter said.
But by all accounts, Ohio State has adopted the same approach to bowl preparation. Come kickoff on Saturday, whichever team improved the most over their pre-bowl layoff may just have the upper hand at a berth in the national championship game.