Peach Bowl preview: Ohio, Georgia are perennial powerhouses, only met once

Unlike the 1993 Florida Citrus Bowl, the Buckeyes and Bulldogs will play a lot more on New Year’s Eve: a spot in the national title game.

ATLANTA is the titans of the student network, a pair of perpetual powerhouses that, oddly enough, have met each other only once in their long, rich history.

Three decades ago, in a bizarre pre-playoff, RPO, and NIL era, Georgia beat Ohio State in a bowl game that meant little more than bragging rights.

On New Year’s Eve, they will play much more in the Peach Bowl college football playoff semi-finals, a place in the national title game.

The Bulldogs with the best rating (13-0) are looking to take the penultimate step towards their second national championship in a row, barely breaking a sweat on their way to the Southeastern Conference crown.

Ohio State’s No. 4 (11-1) was lucky to be in that position a little more as he slipped into the final playoff berth without winning his division in the Big Ten.

A resounding loss to Michigan in the regular season finale eliminated the Buckeyes from conference title contention, but they advanced to the playoffs when USC lost in the Pac-12 championship game.

Nick Camino has a preview:

It all adds up to a very intriguing semi-final between schools with so many traditions – from the Oogie mascot in Georgia to dotting the letter in Ohio State – but almost never see each other.

Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg was asked what he knew about the Bulldogs.

“Before playing them, no introduction,” he replied. “I mean, I’ve seen them play, but obviously last week I’ve been studying them now. I don’t know anyone who went there. Nothing special”.

Eichenberg’s ignorance is understandable.

On New Year’s Day in 1993, the Bulldogs ended the best season of the almost forgotten Ray Goff era with a 21–14 Florida Citrus Bowl victory over the John Cooper-led Buckeyes. It was a high-profile game that included Garrison Hurst of Georgia and Robert Smith of Ohio State, each running for over 100 yards and two touchdowns.

Luckily for the Bulldogs, they had a quarterback (Erik Zeyer) who could throw the ball too. The Buckeyes, with current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstrait taking pictures, completed only 8 of 24 passes for 110 yards with an interception.

“It was a good win for the Dawgs,” recalls Will Muschamp, the Georgia defensive coordinator who played in that game for his alma mater. “We had breakfast and Herbstraight got up and threw the pass across the room.

“I knew we had a chance to win.”

Joking aside, there are no Herbstreits in this one. But both teams have Heisman Trophy finalists as quarterbacks — Georgia’s Stetson Bennett versus Ohio State’s CJ Stroud — and plenty of firepower.

The Buckeyes are second in the nation with 44.5 points per game, while Georgia is in 10th place with an average of 39.2 points per game.

The big question for the State of Ohio: Can they physically match the strong Bulldogs?

Georgia is just as comfortable pushing the opposition with her deep group of runners as she is opening up opportunities for Bennett and a talented collection of pass catchers led by tight end Brock Bowers.

Ohio State faced such a test against Michigan – and failed miserably. The Buckeyes are now receiving reigning national champions.

“This is football and you have to play physically,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day. “Of course it will be the most physical game you’ve played all season.”

DUEL OF THE DEFENDERS

Bennett, a former errand boy, may go down in history as one of the best quarterbacks in college football history.

He earned offensive MVP honors in his last three postseason contests, completing a total of 60 of 85 passes for 811 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions in this year’s SEC Championship Game and two playoff victories last season.

Stroud, who was heavily recruited by Georgia prior to a touchdown in Ohio State, will face a Bulldogs defense that was 502 yards down in a 50-30 win over LSU for the SEC title.

He considers this nothing more than an anomaly in the game, which Georgia has been confidently leading most of the way.

“I’m pretty sure they won’t let us back down and do what we want,” Stroud said. “I’m pretty sure they watched a movie about us and made sure that’s what they’re going to stop.”

INJURY REPORT

After not showing up for most of the week, Ohio State running back Mian Williams finally showed up for practice on Thursday.

Coach Ryan Day said his player has stomach problems but will be ready to play on Saturday.

It remains to be seen how effective Williams will be after an ankle injury against Indiana last month. He missed one game and only had eight carries for 34 yards in the loss to Michigan.

The Buckeyes could certainly use it against Georgia, which allowed the nation’s leader to gain 77 yards in a game.

Speaking of injuries, the Bulldogs could be missing out on a couple of key players. In the SEC title game, offensive lineman Warren McClendon suffered a knee ligament injury and Ladd McConkey (51 catches, 675 yards, five touchdowns) was forced out of the game with knee tendonitis.

Smart has been humble throughout the week, simply saying that he hopes both will be able to play in four weeks to recover.

LOOK FOR HARD ENDS

Georgia has two huge weapons in the tight end and the Buckeyes aren’t all that bad in this often overlooked position.

Bowers is the Bulldogs’ top receiver with 52 receptions for 726 yards and six touchdowns, while 6-foot-7 and 270-pound Darnell Washington is a formidable physical challenge.

Ohio State faces Cade Stover, who has 35 catches for 399 yards and five points. He calls the tight position “a key part of a good offense.”

FRONT

A deep defensive front—even after losing three players in the first round of the NFL Draft—allowed Georgia to keep the opposition’s quarterbacks on their toes without the need for a lot of throws. This will be a key moment against Stroud and Ohio State, who has a pair of 1,000-yard receivers (Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka).

HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE

It appears to be a crowd of Bulldogs supporters at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is about 75 miles from the Georgia campus in Athens.

This is Georgia’s third game this season at the stadium where the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons play. The Bulldogs started with a 49-3 thrashing of Oregon and played out again in the conference title game.

Paul Newberry is a national sportswriter for the Associated Press. Email him at [email protected]

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