After a month of waiting, the Peach Bowl is finally here.
Ohio State and Georgia’s national championship hopes will be on the line when the Buckeyes meet the Bulldogs at 8 pm tonight in a College Football Playoff semifinal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Buckeyes will look to take advantage of their self-described “second lease on life” and bounce back from their regular-season-ending loss to Michigan with an upset win.
If the fourth-seeded Buckeyes can pull off the upset over the top-ranked Bulldogs tonight, Ohio State will advance to the national championship game for the third time in the CFP era. If the Buckeyes lose tonight, their 2022 season will be over.
With everything on the line, here are our final thoughts, questions and players to watch going into tonight’s battle.
A chance at redemption
Even in Atlanta during bowl week, a whole month removed from The Game, Ohio State might have fielded more questions about its Nov. 26 loss to Michigan than its upcoming CFP semifinal. So frequent were the Wolverine-based inquisitions that several Buckeyes admitted to growing tired of that line of questioning. It’s been a long five weeks living in the shadow of that devastating defeat, but Ohio State can finally turn the page with an upset victory over the No. 1 team in the country and defending national champions.
If that’s not redemption enough, the Buckeyes could get direct revenge against Jim Harbaugh and company in the national championship game, in which case Ohio State is sure to hear many of those same questions resurface.
With a win over the big, bad Bulldogs, though, Ryan Day and the Buckeyes can change the conversation dramatically and begin to extinguish the firestorm of criticism that followed their last performance.
– Griffin Strom
What will the running back rotation look like?
Ryan Day said Friday that Miyan Williams will “be ready to go,” but will he be fully healthy? We might not know that until the game actually starts Saturday. Even if he is, there’s a case to be made that Dallan Hayden and/or Chip Trayanum should also be part of the rotation. After Hayden played only 11 snaps against Michigan, however, it remains in question whether Ohio State trusts the true freshman to play a significant role in a big game.
Assuming Williams is good to go, he’s likely to see the most work at running back against Georgia, but both Hayden and Trayanum have shown enough when they’ve gotten opportunities to give Ohio State reason to consider getting them involved against the Bulldogs – while Xavier Johnson could also see situational snaps at RB with his ability as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
– Dan Hope
How will Ohio State perform on the fast track?
When Urban Meyer took over as Ohio State’s head coach before the 2012 season, his primary focus was to transform the program into one that could compete with the mighty SEC schools like Alabama, LSU and Auburn.
Ohio State found immediate success under Meyer and his new philosophy. He made the Buckeyes athletic, with speed and quickness that was evolutionary to the Big Ten. In the years that followed, Meyer’s teams continued to pace their league and the nation with their play, allowing Ohio State to enter the “elite” conversation with Alabama and Clemson. When Meyer retired in 2018, he handed the keys to his well-maintained Ferrari to Ryan Day, a first-time head coach in college football.
Day didn’t crash the supercar. He may have even made a few upgrades. Ohio State reached the CFP immediately in 2019, again in 2020 – which included a trip to the national championship – and is back for a third time in 2022. The Buckeyes reached this point because of the same athleticism and skill that made Meyer’s teams great. In many ways, that style of play has become the program’s identity, which makes a bowl game played indoors on a fast track a match made in heaven for the Buckeyes.
In Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Day can drive his well-tuned Ferrari that has been covered in the garage since October as the dome-covered venue allows for the perfect conditions to drive a supercar. How willing will Day be to test the limits of his Ferrari as he races against Kirby Smart, who is behind the wheel of his own supercar – a Lamborghini, probably – in the Peach Bowl on Saturday? Will the Ferrari reach its full potential?
– Chase Brown
Can Jim Knowles tighten up the defense and limit big plays?
Ohio State defensive coordinator kept things short and to the point when asked if the five long plays surrendered during the Michigan game made the difference against the Wolverines.
“Yes,” Knowles said matter-of-factly.
After Knowles was burned by his aggression against the Wolverines at times, it will be interesting to see what he dials up against Georgia. If OSU has hope of pulling off an upset, it needs to limit explosive plays surrendered to the Bulldogs; otherwise, it’s going to be a long Saturday night.
– Garrick Hodge
Players to Watch
No Buckeye’s bowl week was monitored more closely than Williams, whose absence from multiple interview sessions and one of Ohio State’s two open practice viewing windows raised plenty of eyebrows given his health issues over the back half of the season. But by all accounts, Williams has only been dealing with a stomach bug, rather than a physical injury, and Ryan Day said Thursday that the third-year rusher will be “ready to go” on Saturday.
When healthy this season, Williams was one of the best backs in the Big Ten. When hampered with various afflictions, the Buckeye run game largely struggled. Chip Trayanum and Dallan Hayden have shown flashes late in the year, but without TreVeyon Henderson in a matchup against the No. 1 rushing defense in the country, Ohio State needs Williams to do some serious damage on the ground – sick or otherwise.
– Griffin Strom
Marvin Harrison Jr.
When Alabama beat Georgia in the SEC Championship game a year ago, the Crimson Tide torched the Bulldogs with their downfield passing game. This is also the clear path for Ohio State to walk away from an upset victory.
Marvin Harrison Jr. is a human cheat code and automatic mismatch no matter who he lines up against. Kelee Ringo is a more than capable cornerback for Georgia, but if the Bulldogs put him on an island against Harrison Jr., the Buckeyes need to take advantage of those one-on-one matchups.
There was a sentiment around Ryan Day’s play calling against Michigan that it was a little too cute at times. Saturday won’t require Day to reinvent the wheel to win, but Harrison Jr. has to be a big part of the Buckeyes’ game plan.
– Garrick Hodge
Ransom played a key role in keeping Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer in check after replacing Josh Proctor in the lineup at safety on Ohio State’s second defensive series in its season opener, and Ransom’s performance against the Fighting Irish led to him replacing Proctor as a starter. for the rest of the season. He’s coming off his worst performance of the year against Michigan, though, when he got beat by Wolverines tight end Colston Loveland for a 45-yard touchdown.
He’ll have the ultimate chance to redeem himself on Saturday as he goes up against the nation’s best tight end duo, Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington. Ohio State needs its safeties and linebackers to be at their best in coverage to keep those two in check, and Ransom might be the safety who spends the most time in one-on-one matchups with those tight ends. It’s also possible the Buckeyes could bring in a bigger safety off the bench like Josh Proctor or Sonny Styles to help cover the tight ends, but based on the lack of rotation at safety during the regular season, it seems likely most of that responsibility will fall upon Ransom, Ronnie Hickman and Tanner McCalister as well as linebackers Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg.
– Dan Hope
Earlier this week, I wrote about how Zach Harrison has the opportunity to make a profound impact for Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. More than any other player considered one of the Buckeyes’ best – CJ Stroud, Marvin Harrison Jr., Paris Johnson Jr., Tommy Eichenberg, etc. – Harrison has the best chance to change the course of the game with a single play. A sack that forces a punt instead of a field goal, a pass deflection that leads to an interception, a strip-sack that leads to an Ohio State fumble recovery and so much more.
In what will be either his final or penultimate performance as a Buckeye, I expect Harrison to rise to the occasion and make a difference against Georgia. A curtain call is in order – that’s why he is my player to watch in the Peach Bowl.
– Chase Brown