Ohio State Embracing Notion That “Not A Lot of People Give Us A Chance” to Beat Georgia As Peach Bowl Prep Resumes in Atlanta

By Griffin Strom on December 26, 2022 at 10:10 am
Ryan Day

The work is done in Columbus.

Ohio State has arrived in Atlanta to continue Peach Bowl preparations for the five days that precede Saturday’s all-important College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with defending national champion Georgia on New Year’s Eve.

The Buckeyes reconvened down south after dispersing across the country for a brief holiday break, but make no mistake, Ohio State was hard at work at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center before that. Ryan Day said the Buckeyes practiced six out of the seven days that led into their break, and the Ohio State head coach liked what he saw.

Day said the Buckeyes understand precisely what’s in front of them and how difficult it will be to pull off an upset win in the Bulldogs’ backyard.

“Well, I see a team that realizes that not a lot of people give us a chance and have played really hard in practice or prepped really hard in practice. I think there's a good look in our guys' eyes,” Day said during Wednesday’s press conference. “We're gonna give them a couple of days off for Christmas here and then get back together down in Atlanta. But we know what we're in for, we know what the challenge is, and we've been working really hard towards it.”

Ohio State may have the toughest draw of the four-team tournament in the first round, but of course, the Buckeyes were in no position to argue for a better slot in the CFP after losing its regular-season finale and not having a chance to win the Big Ten. But a matchup with the No. 1 team in the country allows Ohio State to adopt a mentality it hasn’t necessarily had to all year.

That of an underdog.

Dan Hope wrote on Dec. 11 that it’s not a role Ohio State has played often in recent years – just three times under Day and not since 2020 – but Day said at his post-CFP selection press conference that “I kind of like being this role.” Day also knows it means nothing if the Buckeyes don’t “go do something with it.”

However, at least one Buckeye feels like Ohio State had already been carrying a chip on its shoulder all season.

“The favorites and all, I feel like that doesn't really matter to anybody. Nobody really looks at that. We're just worried about winning the game,” starting defensive tackle Taron Vincent said on Dec. 14. “I mean, it's cool being the underdog, but I feel that's been us all year even though we've been winning. People still got something to say.”

But this game isn’t just another date on the schedule. It’s a different challenge entirely. This time Ohio State is widely expected to lose, and even if that takes some level of pressure off of the Buckeyes, it won’t do much to negate the disappointment that will be felt both inside the program and on the outside looking in should Ohio State come up short.

Tanner McCalister wouldn’t have it any other way. The Oklahoma State transfer safety wanted the biggest possible stakes when he came to Columbus for his final season of college football at the start of the year, and now he finds himself on the same stage he’s long dreamt about.

“There's definitely pressure, definitely intensity, but as a player, that's what you play for,” McCalister said. “I mean, you're at Ohio State, you're gonna have pressure, you're gonna have all of that. It's 105,000 at every game. But that's what you play for. I mean, that's what I came here for. That's what everybody came here for. So it's no biggie.”

McCalister isn’t the only Buckeye who has yet to play in a CFP game. This year’s Buckeye team is littered with second-year contributors who weren’t even on the roster when Ohio State went on a run to a national championship game appearance in 2020. Even C.J. Stroud, who was on the field for that loss to Alabama in Miami, has yet to take a snap in a CFP game.

“You got to come into that game with a different demeanor, man. You got to really be prepared to go to battle for four quarters, like all game. And I think we understand that after what happened in our last regular season game.”– Tanner McCalister

But while the setting will be very different, Ohio State’s last appearance on the gridiron may be the best preparation they could’ve received. After all, Michigan is in the field of four, and McCalister even thinks the Bulldogs and Wolverines have a similar playing style.

“Both really good teams, obviously they're top-four, I think that's one and two. And they play similar, man. You got to be able to be tough when you play teams like that,” McCalister said. “You got to come into that game with a different demeanor, man. You got to really be prepared to go to battle for four quarters, like all game. And I think we understand that after what happened in our last regular season game. And we understand that we got to be a four-quarter team, and every single play, you never know what play it's gonna be that's gonna really determine the game. So I think going into this game, man, with this second chance, with this second lease on life, we really have a different perspective of how we got to come out as the Buckeyes.”

Without the bad blood and hostilities of a Michigan matchup, Buckeye players have been even more effusive in their praise of the Bulldogs, which will be Ohio State’s second straight contest against one of the top-two teams in the nation.

“I just think that they're hard players. And I respect that they keep going hard,” Paris Johnson Jr. said. “I feel like sometimes you see people on tape that show flashes of greatness, but sometimes they have the tendencies to be a little lazy here and there. I feel like from watching their players this season that they don't have that, and I respect that from our opponent, that they have that drive to keep going. And so I'm definitely excited to face them, and I respect them as an opponent.”

There should be plenty of differences regarding the Xs and Os. Still, there’s little doubt that the physicality and talent Georgia brings to the table should equal – if not surpass – Michigan’s own. Given that the Buckeyes still have championship hardware to play for this late in the season, though, that’s what they should expect out of any matchup.

“That's college football. Everybody wants to see good on good. Nobody wants to see those little games,” Vincent said. “Everybody wants to see the best play the best, and I think that's what we're gonna get.”

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