ATLANTA -- No. 1 Georgia and No. 4 Ohio State will square off Saturday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a berth in the College Football Playoff National Championship on the line. Georgia is coming off of a resounding 50-30 win over LSU in the SEC Championship Game, while Ohio State's loss to No. 2 Michigan on rivalry weekend kept the Buckeyes from winning the Big Ten East and forced them to play the waiting game until Selection Sunday.
This game will feature two of the best quarterbacks in the country. Bulldogs star Stetson Bennett IV, a former walk-on, earned a spot in New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy after the season. While there, he got to make the rounds with two-time Heisman finalist and Buckeyes star CJ Stroud, one of the most talented and athletic signal callers in the nation.
Simply put, it will be a fascinating game on Saturday night in Atlanta.
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Keys to the Peach Bowl semifinal
1. The Bulldogs passing attack
Georgia's reputation as a run-first, play-action offense has simply not been the case in 2022. Bennett and offensive coordinator Todd Monken have designed an extremely versatile unit that features tight end Brock Bowers, wide receiver Ladd McConkey and running back Kenny McIntosh as his top three receivers. That will be a huge challenge for a Buckeyes team that gave up three touchdowns to Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy in the last game
Buckeyes coach Ryan Day was asked how angry his defense, and specifically his secondary, was after that 45-23 loss: "They should be. And we all should be. We know what we need to do in this game to win, and that's kind of the way this month has been for a lot of us at practice every day. There's been an edge. There's been friction. There's been conflict. There's been a lot of that going on, and that's a healthy thing. And so the one good thing about this, we're going to go play. We're not going to sit there and worry about what if or anything like that. Nobody really gives us a chance to win this game anyway. So, we're going to let it all out. We're going to play as hard as we possibly can and look up after four quarters and see where we're at."
Was Ohio State's defensive struggles a peek into its true identity or an outlier? The answer to that burning question will likely determine the outcome of this game.
2. Battle in the trenches
Ohio State star running back TreVeyon Henderson, who rushed for 571 yards and six touchdowns, won't play due to an injured foot, which will put a ton of pressure on Miyan Williams. However, Williams led the Buckeyes in rushing with 817 yards and 13 touchdowns. Williams proved that he can handle the pressure when he had a running mate, but he'll need some help from the big boys up front.
Ohio State features second-team All-Americans Dawand Jones and Paris Johnson Jr. in the trenches, and Georgia's defensive front is anchored by first-team All-American defensive lineman Jalen Carter. If you're into old-school football up front, this game is for you. The winner of that battle will move on to Los Angeles and the CFP National Championship.
"It's a great matchup. You look across the board, there's a lot of great matchups in this game. That's one of the interesting ones because they're certainly very talented on the offensive line," said Georgia coach Kirby Smart. "Got a great group, a lot of experience, and our defensive line will be challenged. [Linebacker] Nolan [Smith] being down. We kind of do it by committee now outside of Jalen, and it'll be a great competitive match up for both groups."
3. Bennett's athleticism
The senior averaged 263.5 passing yards per game, but his ability to run the ball is something that has the attention of the Ohio State players and coaches. Bennett is more than a willing runner. He is a difference-maker. Expect Monken to use his legs as part of the game plan. If he can put Ohio State's linebackers in conflict, it could be a long night in Atlanta for the Buckeyes.
"We've got to rush together," said Ohio State defensive lineman Zach Harrison. "All four of us rushing together. When we do send guys, the linebackers are doing the same thing. Just nobody trying to get greedy and go in and get one and leaving a gap open. Just rushing together, and we'll get home."
4. Those Ohio State wideouts are problematic
Jaxon Smith-Njigba is unavilable to play on Saturday, as has been the case for the most of the season. Despite that, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka have gone over the 1,000-yard mark as Ohio State produced the best passing offense in the Big Ten (294.2 yards per game). Simply put, this is the most dangerous passing offense Georgia has faced all season. Why? Because Ohio State's receiving room is stacked.
"Talent, a lot of talent, well coached," said Smart. "They come from a room that has a pedigree -- everybody knows Ohio State puts out tons of wide receivers. And those guys have followed in the footsteps of some really great players. So, you know they watched those really talented guys work and perform, and they are just as good as those guys. It's as good a group as I've seen."
Georgia safety Christopher Smith earned first-team All-American honors from the AP, Kelee Ringo iced last year's national title game with a pick six, and the Bulldogs and the depth at the backend of the defense is comparable to that of a pool used for competitive divers. It'll be strength vs. strength. If Ohio State's passing attack, and specifically Stroud, can force this game into a track meet on grass, it'll give the Buckeyes their best shot at the upset.
5. Crowd factor
This will be the third time in 2022 that Georgia will play in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and its first two appearances have gone quite well. The win over LSU was the bookend to a resounding 49-3 win over Oregon in the opener. The LSU game seemed like a de facto home contest for the Bulldogs with the Tigers crowd vastly outnumbered and quiet throughout the entire 60 minutes. Will that be the case again? It seems like Ohio State fans have come in droves judging from the mood around town, but it's not like Georgia fans have to travel far.