Lessons Georgia football can learn as Alabama-Ohio State play for national championship
Alabama and Ohio State will take the field on Monday night for the national championship game. Georgia will obviously not being playing in the game, as the Bulldogs finished their season on Jan. 1 with a win over the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Georgia does a lot of things like both Alabama and Ohio State. But there are enough subtle differences between the two programs that explain why those two programs are playing on Monday night and Georgia is not — aside from Ohio State playing a 6-game schedule against Big Ten teams this season.
So what tips can Georgia learn from these programs? And what must the Bulldogs do to get back to the title game they played in during the 2017-18 season.
Offensive line play really matters
Alabama won the Joe Moore Award this season, which is given to the nation’s top offensive line. Fellow College Football Playoff participant Notre Dame was also a finalist. Ohio State’s group was no slouch either, led by former elite recruits like Wyatt Davis and Nicholas Petit-Frere.
When Kirby Smart spoke about Alabama earlier this season, one of the areas he really harped on was the size and play of that group.
“It’s just a big group. They can swallow you up. They can move you; they can mash you,” Smart said. “They’ve got experience. It’s certainly a really good group of veteran offensive line guys that help them be successful offensively.”
In the Georgia-Alabama game, the Bulldogs had three sacks. But on Alabama’s final four drives of the game, the Crimson Tide kept Alabama quarterback Mac Jones clean. The Crimson Tide went touchdown, touchdown, touchdown and a 6-minute drive to end the game.
Having a potent offense is great, but it all starts with strong offensive line play that keeps your quarterback off the ground and clears the way for the running backs. Even as Justin Fields struggled against Northwestern, the offensive line made life very easy for Trey Sermon as he ran for 331 yards.
When the Buckeyes got the passing game going against Clemson, Ohio State kept Fields mostly upright as the Tigers had a season-low 2.0 sacks in the loss.
Georgia had an up and down year when it comes to the offensive line. In games against Missouri and Auburn, the Bulldogs looked like a strong cohesive unit. But against Mississippi State and Cincinnati, Georgia really struggled.
The Crimson Tide had at least 100 yards rushing in every game this season. Georgia had two under 50.
Going into 2021, the Bulldogs have to replace Ben Cleveland and Trey Hill. Those two were arguably the best lineman for Georgia during the 2020 season. Georgia has some talented up-and-comers in Broderick Jones, Tate Ratledge and Sedrick Van Pran. The Bulldogs also signed 5-star offensive lineman Amarius Mims.
Georgia also had to make a change at offensive line coach entering the 2020 season, as Matt Luke stepped in for Sam Pittman. A more normal offseason for the Bulldogs could help Luke and the offensive line perform on a more consistent level in 2021.
Wide receivers, and lots of them
Georgia saw first hand how great wide receivers, such as DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, just beat good defensive back play nowadays.
Even when Waddle went down, teams still didn’t have an answer for the Heisman Trophy winner in Smith. Elite wide receivers help make quarterbacks better. You can look at the performance of Jones this year or Jake Fromm last season for Georgia to see the value in having strong wide receiver play.
Fields had his worst game of the season against Northwestern, as he completed 12 of his 27 pass attempts while getting intercepted twice. He also happened to be missing Chris Olave in that game. Olave leads Ohio State in receptions and touchdowns this season and has just 13 fewer yards than Garrett Wilson despite playing in one fewer game.
Against Clemson, Olave had no problem getting open as he finished with 132 yards and two touchdown catches. Fields finished that game completing 22 of his 28 attempts and threw for six touchdowns.
Georiga did seem to figure out this problem with the 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes. The Bulldogs signed five wide receivers who ranked among the top-100 overall prospects. Georgia was a very different team when Daniels was able to find George Pickens or Jermaine Burton downfield.
The Bulldogs will also get back more reinforcements at the position as Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Dominick Blaylock and Arian Smith all get healthy. There’s also tight end Darnell Washington, who Georgia made a more concerted effort to involve in the offense against Missouri and Cincinnati.
Alabama saw Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs both get taken in the first round last season and there was no drop-off in that position. Georgia needs to get to that same point when it comes time for Pickens and company to move on to the next level.
Alabama signed three top-100 wide receivers in this class. Ohio State inked four in the previous cycle, though one has already transferred out. The Bulldogs don’t need to do that every cycle but they need a class like they signed in 2020 more often than not at this point.
Have a plan at quarterback
During the 2018 season, Smart famously said “The plan is, there is no plan,” when discussing the quarterback situation between Fromm and Fields. That backfired when Fields ultimately ended up transferring out.
When Fields became available, Ohio State went all-in on him being the guy, with former 4-star quarterback Tate Martell transferring out. Fields has helped guide the Buckeye to the College Football Playoff in each of the past two seasons.
At Alabama, the Crimson Tide signed 5-star quarterback Bryce Young as a part of the 2020 class. It also had veteran Mac Jones back, who filled in for Tua Tagavoiola in 2019. If Jones hadn’t played to the level he had in 2020, the Crimson Tide could’ve turned to the talented freshman quarterback.
Alabama also made it a point to get Young snaps with the starting offense in blow-outs this year. You can bet he’ll be the guy for Alabama next season if Jones enters the NFL draft.
For Ohio State, it signed two highly-touted quarterbacks in C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller as a part of the 2020 signing class. It also signed 5-star quarterback Kyle McCord as a part of the 2021 signing class. Those three will all compete to replace Fields in the likely event he declares for the 2021 NFL Draft.
As for Georgia, the Bulldogs struggled through the early part of 2020 due to quarterback play. Fromm declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. Jamie Newman transferred in and then opted-out. D’Wan Mathis wasn’t ready. Daniels wasn’t healthy to start the season.
So the Bulldogs started Stetson Bennett against Alabama and Florida. While he was good enough to beat Florida and Tennessee, that wasn’t the case against the Gators and Crimson Tide.
Entering 2021, Daniels clearly looks like the answer. He threw 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions in the final four games for Georgia. The Bulldogs also have 4-star 2020 signee Carson Beck and 5-star 2021 quarterback Brock Vandergriff to compete for the job once Daniels moves on.
The quarterback position has proven to be a difficult position to properly evaluate and execute. Even Ohio State had 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow on the team before transferring out.
But Ryan Day, Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney have all shown that they’re able to replace one great quarterback with the next. Georgia has to get to that same spot at that position if it wants to play for a title again.
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