Five Things to Know About Georgia Before Ohio State Takes on the Defending National Champion in The College Football Playoff

By Griffin Strom on December 5, 2022 at 8:35 am
Kirby Smart, Stetson Bennett
John David Mercer – USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State has its spot in the College Football Playoff, but it may have drawn the toughest semifinal matchup possible.

Georgia Bulldogs
13-0 (9-0 SEC)

8 P.M. – SATURDAY, DEC. 31


The Buckeyes are tasked with taking down No. 1 Georgia, the undefeated reigning national champion, and in the Bulldogs’ own backyard no less. Come Dec. 31 at the Peach Bowl, Ohio State’s path to a national championship goes through Atlanta, where the Buckeyes will find the consensus top team in college football waiting in the wings.

Beginning the season at No. 3 in the preseason AP poll, Georgia has never dipped lower than that in either the AP Top 25 or the CFP rankings. Georgia stands alongside Michigan as the only two unbeaten teams in the FBS. Just one of the Bulldogs’ 13 wins has come by less than a double-digit margin, and Kirby Smart and company are fresh off a 50-30 SEC Championship Game win over then-No. 14 LSU.

Ohio State and Georgia may still be 26 days out from their CFP collision, but Eleven Warriors has broken down five things to know about the Bulldogs well in advance as the Buckeyes begin drawing battle plans.

Longest win streak in the FBS

A year and a day ago, Georgia suffered a 17-point defeat to Alabama in the 2021 SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs haven’t lost since.

Georgia’s rebounded from the setback with 15 straight victories, including a CFP semifinal blowout over Michigan, a vengeful rematch performance against the Crimson Tide in last year’s national championship game and 13 consecutive wins to this point in the 2022 season. Georgia’s outscored its opponents by 381 points along the way with a 509-166 margin this season alone.

The win streak includes five ranked opponents, including three top-15 programs this year. Georgia kicked off the year with a 49-3 throttling of then-No. 11 Oregon, toppled red-hot Tennessee (the newly minted No. 1 team in the first CFP rankings at the time) by 14 points and most recently notched the aforementioned 20-point victory over the Tigers.

In a year that’s seen just about every team in the nation stumble at one point or another, Georgia’s remained remarkably steady. The only real knocks on the Bulldogs’ résumé are a 26-22 win over Missouri in which Georgia needed 14 unanswered points in the final 10 minutes to get the job done and a 16-6 victory against Kentucky in the penultimate week of the regular season.

Besides some struggles in those couple of contests, Georgia has looked every bit like the favorite to repeat as national champion this year.

Nation’s best run defense

Georgia lost five first-round NFL draft picks from last year’s top-ranked scoring defense and second-rated total defense. Three of those came on the defensive line alone, with DE Travon Walker and DTs Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt all going in the first 28 picks.

Looking at the lack of production opposing run games have had against the Bulldogs this season, you’d hardly be able to tell.

No team in the FBS has allowed fewer yards per game on the ground than Georgia in 2022. The Bulldogs have given an average of 76.9 rushing yards to opponents so far, and with just five rushing touchdowns allowed, only Iowa has given up fewer. Georgia foes have managed just 2.93 yards per carry, which is also a top-five mark in the FBS.

Only Oregon, Missouri and Florida have managed to crack 100 yards rushing against Georiga this season, and not by much. Missouri finished with 102 and Florida hit 100 on the dot. Not to mention, the Gators needed 34 attempts to finish with an average of 2.9 yards per carry. Oregon and Missouri are the lone two teams to average more than 3.7 yards per carry against Georgia this season, and no team has scored more than one touchdown on the ground.

Like last year, statistical contributions have been widespread on a deep Georgia defense. But along the front four, five-star 2020 prospect Jalen Carter has been the most consistent game-wrecker. The first-team All-SEC lineman is tied for the team lead in sacks with three and his seven tackles for loss are tied for second even though he missed multiple games with injuries.

Georgia’s linebacker corps has also been crucial in the Bulldogs’ efforts to stop the run. After the Bulldogs lost 2021 tackles for loss leader Nakobe Dean to the NFL, Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon Jr. have stepped up to spearhead the unit with 64 tackles apiece. The former also has a team-leading eight tackles for loss and three sacks. 

Georgia’s top outside linebacker, first-team All-SEC honoree Nolan Smith, recorded seven tackles for loss and three sacks in his first eight games this season alone. But Smith’s season came to an abrupt end on Oct. 29 after he suffered a torn pectoral muscle.

But even since that loss, Georgia has been stellar up front. Beyond its numbers against the run, the Bulldogs rank No. 2 in scoring defense (12.8 points per game) and No. 9 in total defense (292 yards per game).

Potential holes against the pass

Statistically, Georgia’s defensive rankings fall off a cliff when you look at pass defense, where the Bulldogs rank 51st in the FBS with an average allowance of 215.1 yards per game. But that stat is skewed by the high volume of pass attempts by their opponents. Teams have only averaged 6.2 yards per pass against the Bulldogs, which ranks 13th-best in the country.

Still, pass defense hardly looked like Georgia’s primary strength on Saturday, when LSU threw for an SEC Championship Game record 502 yards and three touchdowns. And most of that work was done by the Tigers’ backup quarterback following an injury to starter Jayden Daniels.

Georgia held six of its first seven opponents below 200 yards passing, but gave up at least 200 in five of its past six games for an average of 275 yards per game in that stretch. The Bulldogs have also given up almost twice as many passing touchdowns in the final six games as they did in the first seven.

The Georgia secondary does possess top-end talent, though, particularly when it comes to redshirt sophomore defensive back Kelee Ringo. After a 79-yard pick-six in last year’s national championship game, Ringo’s recorded two interceptions, two tackles for loss, six pass breakups and 36 total tackles to land a spot on the All-SEC first team in 2022. At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Ringo is projected to be the first cornerback selected in next spring’s NFL draft and one of the top prospects taken overall. 

Several other members of the Bulldog secondary have also been highly productive. Malaki Starks is third on the team with 63 tackles and has two picks of his own. Christopher Smith has a team-high three interceptions, is fourth among all Bulldogs with 50 tackles and also has five tackles for loss. Javon Bullard is fifth on the team in tackles for loss as a defensive back with six on the season.

Bennett coming off best game of the year

Georgia has a six-year college football veteran at quarterback in Stetson Bennett, who was the offensive MVP of last year’s national championship game after throwing for 224 yards and two scores against Alabama. That performance capped off a stellar four-game stretch for Bennett, who averaged 283 passing yards and threw 12 touchdowns in that period.

But Bennett hasn’t needed to be extraordinary all that often in 2022. With just 20 touchdown passes so far, Bennett has been held without one in four separate games this year. Bennett also passed for just 256 yards combined in Georgia’s final two games of the regular season.

Perhaps his finest performance of the season came on Saturday, though, as Bennett completed 23 of his 29 passing attempts (79.3%) for 274 yards and four touchdowns. Bennett’s 204.2 passer rating was his highest of the year, and it was just the third time in his four-year Georgia career that he threw for four or more scores in a game.

Bennett’s had four other 300-yard games this season, and Georgia’s passing offense ranks 19th in the country with an average of 284.9 yards per game. Bennett’s led a unit that ranks 11th in the nation with a scoring average of 39.2 points per game, and the Bulldogs are seventh in total yards per game (491.9).

A well-balanced offensive approach has aided Bennett, as the Bulldogs rank 18th in rushing offense (207 yards per game) and possess three running backs with at least 530 rushing yards and six scores this year. Rushing leader Kenny McIntosh has also been a vital weapon as a pass catcher, as the imposing 6-foot-1 back has 37 catches (third-most on the team) and 450 receiving yards to go along with his 709 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Best weapon at tight end

Arguably the best player on offense for Georgia is sophomore tight end Brock Bowers, who might also be the top tight end in the nation. The second-year Bulldog leads Georgia in receptions (52), receiving yards (726) and receiving scores (six) and is one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award this season.

Oh, and Bowers isn’t just a pass-catching threat. The 6-foot-4 tight end has also made several big plays in the run game this season, with his six attempts going for 93 yards and three touchdowns.

After four straight relatively quiet games entering the postseason, Bowers had six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown in the SEC Championship Game. Bowers has two 100-yard receiving performances this season, hauling in five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns against South Carolina and pulling down five passes for 154 yards and a score against Florida.

In some respects, Bowers was even more productive as a true freshman, as he finished his first year with 56 catches for 882 yards and 13 receiving touchdowns. But Bowers might still have two more games to add to his season totals, and that starts with the Ohio State matchup at the end of the month.

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