2018 Rose Bowl Preview
The anticipation for this College Football Playoff semi-final game has been building for nearly a month. On New Year’s Day, the anticipation will end as these historic programs will battle for a spot in the National Championship Game. Astonishingly, this will be the first match-up ever between Georgia and Oklahoma. There are many angles of this game to break down, so without further delay let’s get to it.
What: Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwest Mutual
Where: Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, CA
When: 5:00 P.M. EST, Monday, January 1st
Who Has the Edge?
Unless Matthew Stafford is trotting out on the Rose Bowl turf Oklahoma has a clear advantage here. Jake Fromm has done an outstanding job for Georgia as a true freshman this season. He has thrown 21 touchdowns with only five interceptions while completing 63% of his passes. However, the Heisman Trophy winner, Baker Mayfield, has been on another level. He’s been about as efficient as you can be while completing 71% of his passes with 41 touchdowns against just five interceptions.
Oklahoma has done an outstanding job at replacing NFL stars in the backfield with the emergence of Rodney Anderson, Trey Sermon, and Abdul Adams. Believe it or not, they have actually eclipsed the production of a year ago on the ground. Having said that, Georgia has about the same edge at Running Back as Oklahoma does at Quarterback. The Bulldogs bolster three future NFL players at the position. The trio of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and D’Andre Swift ran for 2,720 yards and 29 scores.
This is a closer match-up than most would expect. Georgia has been run heavy all season with their tremendous running game and has not had the same opportunities that Oklahoma has had. On the Bulldogs side, Javon Wims, Terry Godwin, and Mecole Hardman have carried the load this season with a combined 89 catches for 1,494 yards and 15 touchdowns. For the Sooners, Baker Mayfield has been able to share the wealth this season. But, like the Bulldogs, Oklahoma has received a lot of contribution from their top three of Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews, and CeeDee Lamb. They have combined for 147 receptions for 2,628 yards and 21 touchdowns.
When Georgia has the Ball
Georgia is going to attempt to bludgeon Oklahoma with their physical running game. While I expect Georgia might look to throw the Sooners off early on with some unexpected tendencies, they will mostly stay true to form. If Georgia can set up second and mediums and third and shorts consistently, it will be a long day for the Sooners defense. Being in a position to throw the football when Georgia wants to versus when Oklahoma forces it on predictable passing situations is a luxury the Bulldogs must enjoy to be successful in this game.
In order for the Sooners to slow down Chubb and company, the linebacker play must be the best it’s been all season for Oklahoma. Caleb Kelly, Emmanuel Beal, and Kenneth Murray are three guys that need to be flying to the football and not overpursue as they have had a tendency to do at times this season. Also, with the need to place seven and even sometimes eight men in the box the secondary may be on islands at times. The Oklahoma corners are on the smaller side standing 5-11 and 6-0 respectively. Look for Georgia to try to create some one-on-one situations for Javon Wims through the air as he will have a four to five-inch advantage over both Tre Norwood and Parnell Motley.
When Oklahoma has the Ball
The scary thing for Georgia fans is that the Oklahoma offense has consistently gotten better over the last part of the season. And, to give Lincoln Riley nearly a month to prepare seems like an advantage for Oklahoma in this aspect of the game. As good as Georgia’s defense has been, they only rank 63rd in the country in sacks. Keeping Mayfield’s jersey clean will be a key to success for Oklahoma moving the ball.
For Georgia, Roquan Smith will need to show up and continue to be the best defensive player in College Football. In order to have success against Oklahoma, making them one-dimensional is crucial. Smith will be critical to ensuring that Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon don’t go off in the running game. Finally, Georgia will need to be multiple on defense and do their best to keep Mayfield in the pocket. The Bulldogs must mix up bringing heat and dropping six or seven in coverage as well as disguising their blitz in order to confuse and cause problems for the Sooner offense. The Bulldogs may very well drop six in coverage early in the game to see if they can stop the Sooner running game with five in the box. How successful that is could be pivotal to the game for both teams.
Besides the obvious importance of this being a National Championship Semi-Final, it’s extremely intriguing to see the contrast of styles. Very few times is there a big game where you can see a path for both a blowout or a close win for either team, but that is what we have here. Kirby Smart‘s Bulldogs weren’t supposed to be here and few expected them to be here outside of Athens. Whereas, the war cry for the Sooners has been National Championship or bust from the beginning of the season. Oklahoma has not seen a defense quite as sound with as many athletes and speed as what the Bulldogs possess. While Georgia has not seen an offensive team with as many weapons that executes as prolifically as Oklahoma does.
With many Sooners on the roster that played in the playoff game two years ago against Clemson, what has Oklahoma learned that will make them more successful this year? With Georgia preseason ranked #15, will they be happy to be here or will they have the drive to play for a hometown National Championship? This will be an outstanding game with Georgia taking control early with an early 14-3 lead in the first quarter and take a 14-10 advantage into the half. As the Sooners did against TCU, they make the adjustments and come out on fire to take a 31-21 lead into the fourth quarter. Mayfield and company make enough plays and the defense gets it done late as the Sooners advance to the National Championship game.
Final Score Prediction: Oklahoma 31, Georgia 28