ATLANTA — The time for talking is nearly at its end for Ohio State and Georgia as the two teams wrap up their respective preparations for tomorrow’s Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl and College Football Playoff (CFP) semifinal. Before they can get to kickoff, however, head coaches Ryan Day and Kirby Smart met with the media one last time this morning to preview the second-ever matchup between the two programs.
Georgia and Ohio State will enter the game with entirely different vibes permeating from the program given their paths to the postseason. The top-seeded and undefeated Bulldogs have won 15 consecutive games dating back to last season, and they’re favored to become the first team to win back-to-back national championships in the CFP era.
Things haven’t been nearly as smooth for Day and Ohio State after suffering a second consecutive beatdown at the hands of hated rival Michigan last month. The loss has led to seemingly endless scrutiny and doubt, both locally and nationally, about the Buckeyes’ ability to go toe-to-toe with teams built on physicality.
Fortunately for Ohio State, it will have an opportunity to erase such narratives on Saturday, however, and both coaches know there won’t be a talent gap to be found between two programs that consistently land the most elite players in the country.
“Any time you get to this level of football, you’re going to be playing against complete teams,” Day said on Friday. “Georgia’s defense is complete. They have really good players in the back end, very, very talented, highly recruited, and been developed at a high level with tremendous scheme. Then when you go into the front, athletic linebackers who can run sideline to sideline, and their front is powerful. So you see the statistics. You see the way they played all year. They’re a complete defense. When you get to this level of the CFP, that’s what you’re going to get, and that’s the biggest challenge.”
Smart said of Ohio State, “When you look at them on tape, you certainly see the talent. It kind of oozes off the tape, especially the wideout and quarterback positions. Two really good protectors (at offensive tackle). They’ve got talented players across the board. A tight end who I have a lot of respect for and I think is one of the best tight ends we’ve faced all year. They’ve got a guy that can distribute the ball and get it to them.”
Smart added, “It’s a very, very talented team. When you talk about concerns, it’s a trite expression, but it’s the same concerns every game we play. How are we going to play? What are we going to do in terms of execution, playing the ball in the air. There are going to be one-on-one matchups all over the field. You’ve got to win those one-on-one matchups. When you’re playing Ohio State, you’ve got to be disruptive. You’ve got to affect the quarterback in some kind of way. Because, if you don’t, he’s very accurate. He’s a very accurate passer who knows where he’s going with the ball. When you give them free access with a quarterback like that, they can wear you out.”
Indeed, both teams are stocked full of enough talent to win the game, and execution will ultimately decide who goes on to play for the national championship on Jan. 9 in Inglewood, California. The stakes couldn’t be higher for either team, and the pressure will be nearly palpable when the ball is kicked inside Mercedes Benz Stadium tomorrow.
Of course, neither coach is a stranger to the pressures of playing on the biggest stages, and both are well-indoctrinated by now in the loftiest of expectations associated with leading their respective programs.
“There’s always been pressure, so I don’t know that there’s an adjustment to pressure,” Smart said. “There’s just as much pressure from year one to year seven. The expectations don’t change. We embrace that. The standards that are created are created through the players that play there, and we’ve had a really good leadership kind of over the last six, seven years, and they’ve created a standard for the younger players to emulate, and that’s going on now.”
Day added, “The expectations at Ohio State and Georgia are the highest level, and we embrace that. Our players embrace that. That’s why you come to Ohio State, to be in situations like this and play in games like this and go compete for a national championship.”