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5 pivotal Rose Bowl matchups
We’ve got a Rose Bowl to talk about, so there’s no use in lollygagging. Let’s continue our countdown to Georgia’s College Football Playoff semifinal showdown against Oklahoma on New Year’s Day with a look at the five most pivotal matchups.
Baker Mayfield vs. Roquan Smith — Mayfield vs. Smith is one of the prevailing narratives of the Rose Bowl. You arguably have the best two players in college football — and no argument about it being the best quarterback and linebacker — squaring off across from one another with a shot at a national title on the line. It doesn’t get bigger than that. Except for the fact that this narrative is a bit overblown. As Georgia coach Kirby Smart noted, Smith is assigned coverage responsibilities, and that rarely means going head-to-head with a QB. But Ian Boyd of SB Nation mentioned the possibility of Georgia running a 2-4-5 nickel defense. In that scenario, Smith could be used to blitz while the outside linebackers drop into coverage. If Boyd’s right, we’ll get our long-awaited chance to see Smith pin his ears back and go 1-on-1 with Mayfield. From there, it’s just a matter of who can make the play.
Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy vs. Orlando Brown and Bobby Evans — Georgia’s senior outside linebackers have been pivotal to its success this season. Carter and Bellamy had important sacks and strips against Notre Dame and Auburn (SEC championship edition) that turned the tide. Brown and Evans are as good as any tackles UGA’s defense has faced this season ― especially Brown, a Georgia native who stands 6-foot-8. Getting in Mayfield’s face and rattling him is a must for Georgia to disrupt the Oklahoma offense, and Carter and Bellamy give the Dawgs the best shot to do that.
Isaiah Wynn and Andrew Thomas vs. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo — Of the unit showdowns in the Rose Bowl, the battle between Georgia’s offense and Oklahoma’s defense is discussed far less, but it could be just as pivotal. Georgia may need to put up a lot of points to keep pace with Oklahoma’s attack, so if the Sooners can keep the Bulldogs offense off kilter, or create a turnover or 2, it will have a huge advantage. Okoronkwo is the most disruptive force on the Oklahoma defense and the most likely to make a game-changing play. He has 17 tackles for loss, 8 sacks and 3 forced fumbles this season. Wynn and Thomas will have their hands full with him. But if they can give Jake Fromm time to throw and keep the tailback trio from getting hit in the backfield, Georgia should be able to operate its offense per usual.
Aaron Davis vs. Mark Andrews — Andrews is the best tight end in college football. He’s too big for a corner and too fast for a linebacker to cover, which is a big reason he’s accrued 906 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns this season. Davis, Georgia’s nickel, probably will be handed the unenviable assignment of covering Andrews, while Carter also might match up with him as the field linebacker. Andrews is a major threat on third downs, so if Davis can limit him, there’s a good chance the Dawgs will be able to get the Sooners off the field.
Mecole Hardman vs. Oklahoma’s punting unit — Oklahoma has only allowed 7 punt returns this season, but those returns have gone for an average of 15 yards, making the Sooners 128th in college football in average yards allowed per punt return. Hardman hasn’t broken loose for a score yet, but he’s been a shoelace away a time or two. This is just my gut talking, but I think the stars finally align and Hardman finally houses one. Considering how well-matched these two teams are and how close this game should be ― Georgia is favored by 2 points ― a special teams score could make all the difference.
With Georgia hanging in sunny Southern California and taking a trip to Disneyland, distractions are part and parcel of this Rose Bowl experience, as Smart well knows. According to him, it’s about managing those distractions, not eliminating them. From Seth Emerson of DawgNation:
“I’d be foolish to sit here and say there’s no distractions. When you’re here in L.A., downtown, kids from primarily the state of Georgia, you’re going to have some distractions,” Smart said. “So we’ve got to manage those distractions better than the opponent, because it’s tough. When you talk about taking kids out of their normal atmosphere, their normal game routine, throwing them in this, that’s not easy on anybody. That’s one of the challenges of playing in the playoff.”
Luckily for Georgia, Smart is a man who has been on this stage before as an Alabama assistant and knows how to handle a team that has to go through all the extracurriculars of a big bowl experience. He seems as if he knows exactly what to do to get the maximum ability out of his team from how he handles events such as the trip to Disneyland to how he arranges the practice schedule. From Emerson:
The practices in Los Angeles will feature intensive prep for Oklahoma, unlike back in Athens. That’s fairly normal and how it was handled at Alabama when Smart was an assistant with the Crimson Tide. The reasoning is coaches have found there’s only so much prep a team can do for one opponent, that six to seven practices is about the limit until it gets old for the players. So the bowl practice in Athens resembled a preseason camp atmosphere, back to the basics.
Putting the ‘G’ in Guardians
As Smart said, there will be distractions, but distractions can be — hell, they usually are — fun. Check out this video of Smart, Nick Chubb, Smith and Wynn on the Guardians of the Galaxy ride at Disneyland as evidence.
— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) December 28, 2017
UGA hoops adds 4-star forward
Mark Fox has UGA hoops at 9-2 with a few big nonconference wins heading into the SEC slate, and he’s also killing it on the recruiting trail.
On Wednesday, Fox gained the commitment of 4-star Elias King, according to Radi Nabulsi of UGASports.com. King, a 6-6 stretch forward from Snellville, Ga., joins 5-star point guard Ashton Hagans of Covington, Ga., in Georgia’s recruiting Class of 2019. There’s still a long way to go before this class is inked, but if Fox keeps this up, it could be one of the most talented in UGA hoops history.
Dawgs on Twitter
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) December 27, 2017
🌹There’s no other place I’d rather spend my bday than in Pasadena with my teammates preparing for one of the biggest games on our lives. Thank you for all the bday wishes, this year has truly been special 🌹
— Nick Chubb (@NickChubb21) December 27, 2017
Glad that @FrommJake & the Tight Ends were looking after my daughters at Disneyland today while I was in a meeting
— Shane Beamer (@CoachSBeamer) December 28, 2017
There is nothing better than this.
A dog getting a puppy for Christmas is the video that’s been missing from our lives
— UPROXX (@UPROXX) December 28, 2017
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