Georgia v. Oklahoma Rose Bowl Preview
The Georgia Bulldogs and Oklahoma Sooners will play for a spot in the National Championship New Year's Day, the first time the two schools will play one another.
You couldn't have picked a better situation or year for the two programs to meet.
Both programs are among the elites in college football. Between them, they combine for 1,691 wins and 102 bowl games. While they share successful traits, the two teams competing at the Rose Bowl are very different. This will be a classic Big 12 Air it Out v. SEC ground and pound matchup. The question is, which team will impose their style of play on the other.
For the Bulldogs, they'll bring a punishing rush offense and stingy defense to Pasadena. Nick Chubbs and Sony Michel lead a rush offense that averaged 263 yards a game, 10th in the nation. The Bulldogs offense accumulated 3,426 yards on the ground, three of their backs rushing for 500+ yards. Chubbs leads the team in rushing with 1,175 but Michel and freshman D'Andre Swift have put this offense over the top. All three backs are averaging more than seven yards a carry, Swift leading the team with 8.2 yards a pop.
The Bulldogs' run game is classic SEC football. All three backs look to punish defenders, which has worn down everyone they've faced. For Freshman Jake Fromm, it has helped his inaugural season go smooth. While Fromm hasn't put up the big numbers, he also hasn't turned the ball over, only five interceptions this season. One of the biggest concerns throughout the season was whether or not UGA could get away with Fromm not throwing the ball; eight games this season he has passed under 200 yards. When it mattered, specifically the SEC Championship game, Fromm made the plays needed to win the game.
UGA ended their 12-year SEC title drought with a 28-7 victory over Auburn, avenging their 40-17 from a few weeks prior. It was also the first time they seemed to step out of the shadow of Alabama, who is ranked lower than the Bulldogs for the first time all season.
The Sooners come to Pasadena with the best offense in college football. They are #1 in passing yards (4776), total yards (7,583), total offense (583 yds/G), and yards per play (8.4). This prolific offense has scored over 35 points in 10 games, with four games over 50. First-year head coach, Lincoln Riley, has made everyone forget the abrupt retiring of legendary coach, Bob Stoops. Stoops hired Riley as offensive coordinator in 2015 but without Riley knowing, or anyone else for that matter, planned for him to be his replacement. Stoops wanted to make sure he left Riley with the perfect squad. So far the timing and decision seem to be the right one.
Baker Mayfield makes this offense dynamic. The Heisman winner has 41 touchdowns and only five interceptions with 208 passer rating. From week one to the conference championship, he was the most consistent player, a reason why he is the 6th Heisman winner in the program's history. With Baker running the offense, the Sooners have seven players with at five touchdowns from scrimmage, including himself (five rushing touchdowns). Sophomore wide receiver, Marquise Brown, is on his way to being a top NFL prospect, leading a receiving corps that has been nothing short of spectacular.
While both teams have great offenses for their own reasons, only one has a great defense. UGA's top ten defense allows 270 yards a game and is 6th in the nation against ranked opponents (323 Y/G, four games). Only two teams have scored more than 20 points on this defense, one of which being Auburn who dropped 40 on the Bulldogs. Three weeks later, the Bulldogs held the Tigers to seven points and less than 300 total yards.
The Sooners offense has been good enough to not allow more points than their offense but they haven't always played like a championship defense. Having the best offense in the land has allowed them to get away with playing mediocre football. Their best performance came against Ohio State, only allowing 19 points and holding the Buckeyes to 350 total yards (allowed 187 rushing yards).
Keys to the Game:
Defense: In order for the Sooners to win, their defense will have to get off the field. They are ranked 66th in opponent 3rd down conversions, while the Bulldogs converted 44% of their 3rd downs this season. If the Sooners can't get off the field, they'll have to deal with a punishing run game that could wear them down as the game progresses. Remember, they have to deal with three backs, not one.
The Bulldogs will have to eliminate the big play. Brown is averaging 20 yards a catch. Six games this season Brown has a reception of 50+ yards. If they can keep everything in front of them, they can possibly put the Sooners in some third and long situations.
Run Game: The Sooners has a sneaky good run game, but I don't know how good it can be against this defense. Only one back this season has rushed over 100 yards, Kerryon Johnson of Auburn. If they wish to be successful on the ground, Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon will have to play fast and physical. A successful run game for the Sooners will open their offense and the big plays will happen.
Fromm v. Mayfield: No one should expect Fromm to be as good as Baker Mayfield. The best thing UGA can do is protect Fromm and avoiding a quarterback duel that Mayfield will walk as the better QB. Fromm best attribute has been his poise and patience, and most importantly, he doesn't turn the ball over. If his pass attempts go over 28, it could be trouble for UGA.
D'Andre Swift: The Freshman back led the team in rushing in the SEC Championship. If the Bulldogs can get their 3rd string freshman running back to once again to have that kind of production, it will hard for the Oklahoma defense to get off the field.
Turnovers: Neither team turns the ball over but in games like this, someone will make a mistake, the team with the least turnovers win.
The game will be played on grass which can sometimes slow down a high-power offense. For UGA, all they have to do is move the ball on the ground and their keep Baker May and the rest of the Sooners offense off the field.