Since the Georgia Bulldogs hired Kirby Smart as their head coach, they have found success on the back of their dominant defense. This year has been no different, even with an expected dropout with many players headed to the NFL. Despite the turnover, Georgia has found success.
In the biggest games of the year, Georgia has limited explosive offenses across the country, including Tennessee and Oregon, and has taken care of nearly every team they’ve faced. Throughout the season, this defense has evolved to make up for personnel that were injured, but they’ve made it work in a number of ways.
Georgia has done this through a dominant defensive line led by Jalen Carter, who has returned from injury in recent weeks. In the secondary, cornerbacks Kelee Ringo and Kamari Lassiter steal the show with a pair of talented safeties behind them. From a talent standpoint, there isn’t a group with more in the country on that side of the ball.
Ohio State will need to execute its game plan, but the real test will be how the Buckeyes currently prepare. It’s one place where the Bulldogs have won games from the start. If the Buckeyes can’t match the psychological aspects of this game, the Dogs may take control early — and with this talented defense, not relinquish that control until late in the game.
Georgia has one of the worst punting percentages in college football, getting to the QB on 5.52 percent of drop backs. That number has improved since Carter’s return, and Georgia has also brought more pressure from the second level compared to recent years. The combination of blitz packages and having one of the best interior pass rushers has produced significantly better results in recent weeks.
On the year, they have over 200 quarterback pressures and the number per game has increased since Carter returned from injury. Georgia relies on their four-man rush on most passing situations, opting to keep players behind in coverage. When they blitz, they come fast and hard, giving the quarterback little time to throw.
As we can see in the play below, Tennessee runs its quick passing game to gain the five yards needed. They protect against the pressure well, but even when Georgia’s defense didn’t come home, the result of the play was a rushed incompletion.
The main reason Georgia doesn’t rely on bringing additional pressure from the second level is the interior pass rush. Inside pressure has been a common theme for Smart’s Georgia defense, and this is one of the most difficult things for a quarterback to face. With dominant edge rushers, the players are able to go up and maneuver around, but when the pressure comes from the inside, the defender ends up in the quarterback circle before he can do anything about it.
This happened to Hendon Hooker quite a few times against Georgia, especially due to the safety being overturned. Carter is lined up in a 2i alignment, meaning he is over the guard shaded slightly inside to the A-Gap. Tennessee keeps his back in to help and release. Carter’s rush starts with a Bull Rush that throws the guard off balance. As the back escapes, Carter uses a Push-Pull move and ragdolls the Tennessee guard.
With the man cover behind the intoxication, Hooker makes a late decision and this allows Carter to get home.
The Georgia pass rush is complementary to their man coverage, and when the secondary covers well down the field, the four-man rush is able to create pressure that forces rushing throws. When they need to, they are prepared to bring the blitz, but the gamble has bitten them before.
Ohio State will need to have a great day protecting Stroud, and the likes of Donovan Jackson and whoever ends up lining up at right guard will have their work cut out for them. If they are not up to the task, there are many games to look back on for what the outcome will most likely be.
Georgia’s has the No. 1 ranked rush defense in yards per game, and is No. 5 overall in yards per rush. Ryan Day’s goal will be to remain balanced, but teams have struggled to find any kind of run game against this team. This starts up front again, as Georgia’s defensive line leads the way in the Bulldogs’ rush defense. Their athleticism and strength allow them to eat up blockers, freeing up space for the linebackers to flow freely.
Against Kentucky, Georgia had one of its least successful games against the run from a rushing standpoint — still only giving up 89 yards. In the play below, Kentucky is at Ohio State’s worst situation with a 3rd and 1. Georgia’s goal with their defensive linemen is to cross the face of the blocker in front of them. By doing this, it removes the running backs in front of the running track. After they cross the face, the next goal is to get upfield and force the running back to make a decision.
Kentucky gets to the second level on the face of the play, but the defensive line forces it back to the linebacker who is freed, resulting in a short yardage stand for the Dogs.
Where teams have sometimes found success against Georgia’s defense running the ball is with small misdirections. Kentucky uses a Pin-and-Pull blocking scheme here to run the Wide throw. As we saw in the last play, Georgia tries to cross the face of the down blocking defenders.
The reason this play works for Kentucky is because both players to the right follow the Kentucky linemen downfield. On the left side of the offensive line, both players are walled off by down-blocking linemen. The tight end is responsible for getting up to the second level, and the pulling guard prevents the defensive end from getting back into the game. Ohio State runs this concept regularly. Georgia must either change tendencies or rely on their linebackers to beat the blocks.
There are no guarantees to have success against Georgia from a run game standpoint – many teams have tried. The goal will be to have success in the running game in key situations and keep Georgia off balance. If Ohio State finds some big plays and is able to get Georgia off balance, this is where they can find some big plays.
In coverage, Georgia is by far at its best when playing man-to-man. This allows them to carry four, and they are confident that the windows will cause quarterbacks to make bad decisions. In the videos up in the press section, Georgia was in man coverage, which is why their defense is at its most dynamic when they can play base coverage.
Against Tennessee, Georgia thrived in man coverage and was physical against the Tennessee receivers. Against the slot receiver, the nickel corner plays a catch technique, meaning he allows the defender to get inside him so he can get his hands on him. When the receiver shows where he is going, the defender is able to stay in phase and break up the pass.
Ohio State needs to win one-on-one matchups and play hard through the catch. Georgia competes for every ball, so the Buckeyes must too.
Georgia plays a man with two high safeties, which creates a different look for opposing quarterbacks. If opponents run shallow routes, the safeties have freedom to come down. If teams run deep, they are able to cover downfield. The problem for Georgia showing up in this coverage is the fact that there is no help in the middle of the field. One linebacker has a tight end and the other has a running back in coverage.
This allows Tennessee’s receiver to find room for an easy completion, turning a short route into a big gain.
Ohio State needs to do its best to win its one-on-one matchups, and when they have an opportunity, make plays after the catch. Georgia mixes in zone coverage occasionally, but this was more the case against mobile quarterbacks. They will do this to throw off the timing of opposing quarterbacks.
Against LSU, Georgia gave up more big plays than usual, and the mix-ups of coverages really put the Bulldogs in a bind at times. The Buckeyes should expect to see more man coverage with one or two high safety looks. But if they see a zone, there will be opportunities for some big window throws.
LSU was able to make some big plays against Georgia’s zone because of the threat of their quarterback to run. Keeping his eyes in the backfield was a disadvantage here, and LSU’s receiver was able to cross the field into wide open space for the catch. A missed tackle leads to a long touchdown.
Ohio State has the talent on offense to challenge Georgia’s defense, but they need to get out of their comfort zone at times. Ryan Day has routinely forced to be balanced, run the ball when teams expect it and do the same in throwing situations. Avoiding tendencies and attacking Georgia with intent in both the run game and the pass game won’t be easy, but the effort will have to be there.
For Ohio State to be successful passing the ball, the Buckeyes must limit the four-man rush. If they succeed, it will leave Georgia with a choice between defending downfield comfortably with seven defenders or bringing in extra bodies to throw off timing. Stroud hasn’t been great against the blitz this year, so I expect to see the Bulldogs bring the pressure early. If the Buckeyes can hit on some plays downfield this will open up the rest of the offense.
In the running game, misdirection with the offensive linemen and blocking with the receivers will need to be emphasized. The plays of Xavier Johnson and Egbuka that get in motion are actually plays that can keep Georgia off balance. Seeing how Pin-and-Pull blocking schemes have worked because they attack Georgia’s tendencies, seeing these will mean more that the Buckeyes saw what we did today.
This is no small task, but the Buckeyes are a skilled, talented football team. They must be willing to take some risks. Of all the teams this season, Ohio State has three players capable of winning man-to-man matchups against Georgia. While most of the country doesn’t give Ohio State a chance, anything can happen if the Buckeyes execute.