If Ohio State is going to upset Georgia, it will likely have to be on the shoulders of the Buckeyes’ Heisman Trophy finalist.
A potential upset over the top-ranked and undefeated Bulldogs will be no easy task. There's a reason they have the longest winning streak in the country at 15 games. One would have to micro-analyze their team and box scores to find a valid weakness week in and week out. All that's to say, Ohio State has its hands full in its semifinal matchup against Georgia in a few weeks.
If the Buckeyes want to upset Georgia in Atlanta, they will likely have to lean on C.J. Stroud and their passing game. That’s partly because Stroud and the passing offense have been Ohio State’s biggest strength this season, but also because Georgia has the best run defense in the FBS, allowing just 76.9 rushing yards per game (2.93 yards per carry).
During the regular season, the Buckeyes had one of the best passing attacks in the country, throwing for 320-plus yards in six of their 12 games. Stroud, who is one of four Heisman Trophy finalists invited to New York for Saturday night's ceremony, is a huge reason for that.
Stroud has accumulated the following stats this season:
- Passing yards per game: 278.33 (17th)
- Passing touchdowns: 37 (T-1st)
- Passing yards per attempt: 9.41 (3rd)
- Passing yards per completion: 14.21 (6th)
- Completion percentage: 66.2% (22nd)
- Passing efficiency: 176.24 (1st)
Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming and Cade Stover have all been playmakers for the Buckeyes’ passing offense, and they’ll have to continue to be on New Year's Eve, especially now that Jaxon Smith-Njigba has already been ruled out of the College Football Playoff.
Although it came in a loss, Stroud and company moved the ball through the air against Michigan. The Ohio State quarterback completed 31 of 48 passes for 349 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, both of which came after Michigan had already built a multi-score lead in the fourth quarter. Both Egbuka (nine receptions, 125 yards, one touchdown) and Harrison (seven catches, 120 yards, one touchdown) put up big numbers as well, even if they didn't get the ball as often as they should have.
On a team that doesn't have many flaws, especially defensively, Georgia's pass defense might be its weakest point – or at least its most vulnerable area.
During the regular season, Georgia allowed just 191.2 passing yards per game, which would put the Bulldogs 21st in the country in passing yards allowed per game. Opponents have averaged just 6.2 yards per pass against the Bulldogs this season, which ranks 13th nationally, even though they have thrown 454 passes, the second-most in the FBS behind only Clemson. Part of that is due to the fact that the Bulldogs have held a huge lead in almost every game, outscoring their opponents by 381 points (509-166) this season.
However, LSU threw for 502 yards against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, dropping the Bulldogs to 52nd in the country with 215.1 passing yards allowed per game. The Bulldogs have allowed 200-plus passing yards in each of their last four games and five of their last six games after doing so just once in their first seven games of the season.
Let's take a look at how Georgia's opponents have fared through the air so far this season:
|Opponent (Final Score)||Quarterback Stats||Top Receiver's Stats|
|vs. Oregon (49-3)||Bo Nix: 21 of 37, 173 yards, 2 interceptions||Terrance Ferguson: 4 catches, 37 yards|
|vs. Samford (33-0)||Michael Hiers: 13 of 21, 62 yards||Jay Stanton: 5 catches, 12 yards|
|at South Carolina (48-7)||Spencer Rattler: 13 of 25, 118 yards, 2 interceptions||Jalen Brooks: 3 catches, 53 yards|
|vs. Kent State (39-22)||Collin Schlee: 14 of 21, 174 yards, one touchdown, one interception||Devontez Walker: 7 catches, 106 yards, 1 touchdown|
|at Missouri (26-22)||Brady Cook: 20 of 32, 192 yards, 1 touchdown||Dominic Lovett: 6 catches, 84 yards|
|vs. Auburn (42-10)||Robby Ashford: 13 of 38, 165 yards, 1 touchdown||Jarquez Hunter: 3 catches, 73 yards, 1 touchdown|
|vs. Vanderbilt (55-0)||AJ Swann: 12 of 23, 105 yards||Will Sheppard: 3 catches, 45 yards|
|vs. Florida (42-20)||Anthony Richardson: 18 of 37, 271 yards, 1 touchdown||Xzavier Henderson: 5 catches, 110 yards, 1 touchdown|
|vs. Tennessee (27-13)||Hendon Hooker: 23 of 33, 195 yards, 1 interception||Cedric Tillman: 7 catches, 68 yards|
|at Mississippi State (45-19)||Will Rogers: 29 of 51, 261 yards, 1 touchdown||Rufus Harvey: 6 catches, 64 yards, 1 touchdown|
|at Kentucky (16-6)||Will Levis: 20 of 31, 206 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception||Barion Brown: 10 catches, 145 yards, 1 touchdown|
|vs. Georgia Tech (37-14)||Zach Gibson: 19 of 35, 191 yards||Nate McCollum: 6 catches, 65 yards|
|vs. LSU (50-30)||Garrett Nussmeier: 15 of 27, 294 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception; Jayden Daniels: 16 of 24, 208 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception||Malik Nabers: 5 catches, 128 yards, 1 touchdown|
While Georgia is best known for its defense, its offense has scored 39.2 points per game this season, so Ohio State’s offense is going to need to have one of its best games of the season for the Buckeyes to advance to the national championship game.
“When you look at the CFP, the winning team usually scores 49, 50 points. We're gonna have to play well on offense,” Ryan Day said on Sunday. “You're gonna have to score points against a team like this, that's for sure.”
Georgia has lost only three games in the past three years, and there’s been a common thread in all of them. Alabama threw for 421 yards in last year’s SEC Championship Game over the Bulldogs, while Alabama threw for 417 yards and Florida threw for 474 yards in wins over Georgia in 2020.
If Ohio State can have a similarly successful day through the air, as LSU showed is possible against this year’s Georgia defense this past weekend, the Buckeyes can at least give themselves a chance to hand the Bulldogs their first loss this year.
“Certainly a lot of people counted us out, but here we are,” Day said. “I kind of like being in this role. ... What an unbelievable chance to go do something special.”