If you read my mid-season college football report from a few weeks back, I concluded it with predicting Georgia and Ohio State meeting in the National Championship Game in Indianapolis. Yesterday’s games for both teams represented their biggest tests of the second-half of the season to this point, and I want to go into a little more detail with them specifically given that they are my picks for the National Championship.
Let’s start with Georgia, who played earlier in the day.
This game was close early. And I did think Florida was going to make it a close game.
But the whole thing was decided in the final few minutes of the first half, when Georgia turned a 3-0 lead into a 24-0 lead in just three minutes time.
Florida was driving down the field to try and respond to the Georgia field goal, and got into Georgia territory, but were faced with a 4th & 13 at the Georgia 34. Florida elected to go for it instead of kicking the 51 yard field goal, but got stopped. So with about 3:30 to play in the first half, Georgia took over and tried to put together a drive to increase their lead. They got it into Florida territory, but a Stetson Bennett deep pass got intercepted near the Florida 2 yard line, where Florida took over.
But the turnover was actually terrible for Florida. Starting out in the shadow of their own goalposts, Anthony Richardson ended up fumbling and giving Georgia the ball back at the 11, which Georgia quickly turned into a TD. Two plays later, on 2nd & 14 from their own 20, Florida’s Richardson threw a terribly ill-advised pass which was tipped then picked by Georgia, giving the Dawgs the ball at Florida’s 36. Georgia bombed one to the end zone the very next play and went up 17-0. Then, a pick-six with just 7 seconds remaining in the half made it 24-0 Georgia.
Just look at this sequence. Absolutely devastating for Florida:
That was pretty much it for the game. You are not coming back from a 24-0 deficit against this Georgia team.
I think Florida has been somewhat underrated this year; they have a close loss to Bama, a close road loss to Kentucky, and a somewhat inexplicable loss to LSU on the road. But Florida is really talented, and while they’re not ranked in the AP poll, I have them in my power ratings inside the top-15.
Outside of the final 3 minutes of the second quarter, Florida held their own fairly well against this Georgia team. You take a look at the stat sheet and it was pretty even: Florida had slightly more total yards (355-354), they had more first downs (20-18), won time of possession by 5 minutes, and had an equal number of turnovers (3 apiece). Now of course Georgia was way more efficient in terms of yards per play, averaging 6.8 to Florida’s 4.5, but it’s not like Florida was completely smothered in this game.
This is a high quality win for Georgia. I know it’s not a ranked win, and I know Florida’s QB situation is not great at the moment, but remember how close Florida played Bama earlier in the season? Georgia made them look like they didn’t even belong on the field. This is a Florida team that began the season ranked top-10. I think right now Georgia has to be considered the clear favorite to win the National Championship.
I’m not going to say they’re the overwhelming favorite with Bama still lurking out there, but Georgia’s the clear favorite. At this point they should be expected to win it all. You saw Bama go all the way down to the wire with this Florida team; Georgia easily took care of them.
Now let’s move on to Ohio State.
Ohio State didn’t cover the -18.5 spread, but I think that was an over-inflated line based on how poorly Penn State has been playing as of late and how well Ohio State was playing against objectively weak competition. This is the first legit team Ohio State has had to play since Oregon, and I think they were expecting to cruise like they’ve been doing against the Indianas and Rutgers and Marylands of the world.
I’m sure Buckeye Nation isn’t happy about this one given they were expecting a 42-10 beat down, but honestly they shouldn’t have expected that. They were acting like Penn State is this garbage program, but it’s not true.
Though Ohio State has won 9 of the last 10 in this rivalry, most of the games have been close, especially since James Franklin took over in 2014. Last year Penn State was down due to all the craziness of Covid, yet still managed to keep it sorta close, 38-25. In 2019, Ohio State won 28-17 after building a 21-7 lead, then allowing Penn State to come back and make it 21-17 going into the 4th. In 2018, Ohio State scraped by with a come-from-behind 27-26 win, and in 2017 Ohio State had to fight back from an early 21-3 deficit, and then a second-half 35-20 deficit, to secure a 39-38 nail-biter. Penn State won 24-21 in 2016 on that late blocked field goal, and it’s not til you get to 2015 where you see a dominant Ohio State win: 38-10. Even in 2014, when Ohio State won the National Championship and Penn State was unranked, the game went to 2OT and Ohio State escaped with a 31-24 road win. This is how these games typically go lately.
Excluding 2015, the average margin of Ohio State-Penn State games since 2014 has been 5.5 points. They’re always competitive. The result for this game yesterday should not have been a surprise.
Ohio State and their fans were just wrong to think Penn State was going to be an easy win, and that the game was going to go just like the games against Indiana and Maryland. Penn State consistently plays Ohio State tough. Now I know Penn State just lost to Illinois and then lost to Iowa before that, but Sean Clifford got knocked out of the Iowa game when Penn State was up 17-3. I think, given what we’ve seen out of Iowa the past two weeks, if Clifford didn’t get hurt, Penn State probably would’ve rolled Iowa pretty good. And his 19-34, 165 yards, 1 TD performance against Illinois–compared to his 35-52, 361 yards, 1 TD 1 INT performance against Ohio State–indicates he was not fully healthy for that game, but was much healthier yesterday.
A healthy Clifford made a huge difference for Penn State. They couldn’t run the ball at all yesterday night (29 carries for 33 yards), so they were only in that game because of Clifford’s passing ability. This Penn State team is not nearly as bad as people think; they were just undervalued due to the losses to Iowa and Illinois. And Ohio State was somewhat overvalued due to huge wins over bad teams. At the end of the day, this is still an Ohio State team with a lot of young players at key positions, and we saw how prone to mistakes and blunders they were last night.
Ohio State still won by 9, though. And it could’ve been even more if they’d been able to execute in the red zone–they had 19 points out of 6 red zone trips, which translated to 1 TD, 4 field goals and one turnover on downs. Best case scenario for 6 red zone trips is obviously 6 TDs and 42 points, and Ohio State only got 1 TD and 19 points. So that’s a big deal.
What is the upshot of all this? Should we be concerned about Ohio State or not?
In my view, although I can come up with plenty of excuses for why that game was closer than it should’ve been, the answer is yes. As I said earlier, that game was a result of Penn State being undervalued and Ohio State being overvalued after beating up on inferior competition the past few weeks.
Ohio State is not quite on the Bama/Georgia level. They have the talent to be there, and that’s why a lot of people including myself thought that despite the early loss to Oregon, and despite playing an easy schedule since that Oregon game, Ohio State was a legit National Championship contender. They are still probably the best non-SEC team in the country, but right now, they are not good enough to beat Georgia or Bama. Their play remains just too sloppy and mistake-prone.
Ohio State has a lot to correct going forward, including short yardage situations, converting TDs in the red zone, and, when it comes to defense, getting off the field on third down. Those are glaring flaws they have, and they’re the main reason they’re not on the same level as Georgia and Bama.