Frankly, Ohio State has not faced a high volume of elite offenses in 2022.
To put a number on it, only three of the Buckeyes’ first 12 opponents – Michigan, Penn State and Maryland – rank among the nation’s top 50 in terms of total yards per game. And none of them rank higher than 27th.
Georgia’s offense isn’t necessarily elite in terms of glitz, glamor or gaudiness, and its skill position star power may not even be on par with Ohio State’s own. But the group is greater than the sum of its parts. When considering overall team stats, competition faced and general effectiveness, it’s not hard to argue that the Bulldogs possess the best offense Ohio State’s seen thus far.
“You're talking about a serious program that has a consistency to it and multiplicity. So it's a huge challenge, but we need to take it apart piece by piece. That's what we've done.”– Jim Knowles on Georgia
Jim Knowles may have failed to deliver a win over Michigan in his first year at Ohio State, but make no mistake, the test that Georgia presents is one that Ryan Day and company brought him into the program to pass.
Actually doing so, however, is a whole different ballgame.
“Well, it's a huge challenge, one our guys have worked for all year,” Knowles said Wednesday. “The versatility of the offense with the multiple tight ends who are extremely talented, receivers who can make plays in various ways throughout the field, running backs who can attack you both inside and outside and a quarterback who just does a marvelous job of managing the whole thing. It's a complete offense. It's developed like an NFL offense, and they have a bunch of tools at their disposal. So we need to be sound across the board and really play hard with great effort. It is still football, and that makes a big difference. The effort of the players really makes a big difference.”
Michigan ranks higher in both scoring and rushing offense, but the Buckeyes haven’t played any team that averages more than Georgia’s 491.9 total yards or its 284.9 passing yards per game. Given the Bulldogs’ physicality at the line of scrimmage, run-friendly attack and perceived game-manager at quarterback, the Michigan comparisons are only natural.
And considering the Wolverines just put up 45 points on the Buckeyes last month, Knowles might as well have assumed he’d be asked about any likeness between the two programs during bowl week interviews in Atlanta.
Knowles didn’t entertain it much, though, beyond recognizing “they’re all tough.” But he did acknowledge that a team with a national championship pedigree makes the forthcoming task as tough as any.
“Each team presents different challenges, and this is the reigning national champion. So you're talking about a bunch of guys that are going to play at the next level,” Knowles said. “You're talking about a serious program that has a consistency to it and multiplicity. So it's a huge challenge, but we need to take it apart piece by piece. That's what we've done, make sure everybody is on the same page and play hard.”
In terms of surefire NFL talent on the Georgia offense, Mackey Award winner Brock Bowers is at the top of the list. And his 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end counterpart, Darnell Washington, isn’t far behind. Excluding multi-talented running back Kenny McIntosh, Bowers and Washington are two of Georgia’s top three leading receivers with a combined total of 1,143 yards through the air in 2022.
That pair also supplements an offensive line that was named a finalist for the Joe Moore Award, falling short only to Michigan. Knowles mentioned Georgia’s two-tight end sets repeatedly when discussing the strengths of the Bulldog offense Wednesday, but of course, much of the mastery is orchestrated from the sideline.
Knowles has plenty of familiarity with second-year Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who hails from a “big coaching family.” Knowles said he doesn’t know Monken that well personally, but that one of his family members was in his fraternity at Cornell, and the pair share similar stops along their respective coaching careers.
Monken was the offensive coordinator at Eastern Michigan in the late 1990s while Knowles coached the defensive line at Western Michigan. They each had stints at Oklahoma State, although they never overlapped on the same staff. Monken was the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach as recently as the 2012 season, six years before Knowles came aboard as the program’s defensive coordinator, but Knowles still hard about his impact upon arriving in Stillwater.
“They were doing a lot of good stuff. I mean, when it comes to offensive football, I feel like he's been ahead of the game for a while,” Knowles said. “And then he had a great reputation when I got to Oklahoma State. They talked about him out there and did a lot of good things out there.”
Monken’s multiple pre-snap looks have become a calling card of the Bulldog offense, but Knowles is impressed with the overall results as much as anything.
“His ability to put up points. I think points and production and not being conservative,” said Knowles when asked what stands out most about Monken’s offenses. “I think any time you have an offensive coordinator that is like that, people definitely take notice, from a defensive standpoint, too.”
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett cited Monken’s arrival in Athens two seasons ago as a turning point in his own development, and his status as a Heisman Trophy finalist this year – disputed as it may be – only underscores that notion.
The last time Ohio State played a quarterback that many overlooked, though, J.J. McCarthy wound up scoring four total touchdowns amid a stellar performance in a rivalry win. This time around, the Buckeyes aren’t looking past their opposing signal-caller.
“Stetson Bennett is a great player,” Steele Chambers said Wednesday. “He's got this weird little dead leg thing he does that's annoying whenever he is out in open space. But he's a great player, and I think it's going to take 11 guys to really stop him and stop that entire offense.”
More than any individual piece, it’s the combination of all the aforementioned factors that enable Georgia’s offense to stand among the most effective in the country, and Knowles knows exactly how big an obstacle will be to overcome on Saturday.