Yeah, my nerves are tingling over what Georgia’s defense will be facing with Baker Mayfield, but what about the other side of the ball? The Sooners offense is the best single unit playing in the CFP, but their defense is the weakest single unit hitting the field on New Year’s Day. What should we expect from Chaney, Fromm, Chubb, Michel, et al.? And what’s Oklahoma going to do about that?
Well, there seem to be a few common themes out there about those questions.
- It’s the Big 12, and those offenses, man. That’s one the Oklahoma team appears to embrace, itself. “In the Big 12, you’re going to be stressed in a lot of different ways,” senior defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo says. “We’re not complaining — it’s just the nature of the beast. I think it’s just a little misleading, looking at it on paper.”
- SEC defenses are overrated because they don’t face many good offenses. The complement to theme #1 means that Georgia’s offensive staff hasn’t had to work as hard to game plan as your typical Big 12 staff because they can get away with a vanilla offense due to the level of opposing offenses. Here’s Oklahoma’s DC on that: “It’s a unique league. The quarterbacks, the offensive coordinators do a great job, really, scheming week to week and trying to pick at your weaknesses. I would imagine Georgia’s had three or four weeks to do that. So we’ll see.”
- Oklahoma’s defense will be playing with a chip on its shoulder. Hard to do when you’re 12-1 and in the CFP, but: “The only time you pretty much do hear about our defense is how much we suck … or how we’ve got to improve in this and this and this, and how we’re holding the team back,” sophomore linebacker Caleb Kelly says. “So we have a lot to prove and we have these next two games to do it. And I’m just hoping we come together as a defense and continue playing well like we have the past couple of games.” Seems to me you could apply the same sort of thinking to Georgia’s passing game, if you want to.
As you can see, those are all kind of generic. Ian Boyd, though, gets more specific with what is an interesting point. Amidst pointing out the weak spots in Oklahoma’s defense this season, he finds one potential strength:
The saving grace for the Sooners in this contest is that Georgia is much simpler as a rushing team than Kansas State and their favorite play, inside zone, is vulnerable to the Sooners’ favorite front.
The challenge of this “tite” front, which uses a pair of 4i-technique DEs clogging up the B-gaps and then outside linebackers on the edges is that it makes it hard to run the ball downhill as the play is designed and either the sam linebacker or the mike can be a free hitter that the offense doesn’t block. Georgia has tended to handle that with either a Fromm keep option or a quick pass outside to the slot but the Sooners are hard to beat that way with strong safety Steven Parker dropping down. The senior is a pretty sure tackler and these options all involve giving the ball to someone other than Chubb or Michel which isn’t the preference in Athens.
Boyd goes on to say that “There’s a chance Georgia mauls the OU defensive line and blows open holes up the middle anyways, or that they can use their supporting run plays to attack the edges or get OU from clogging up their inside zone play, but the strength of the Georgia offense is not in attacking a defensive front like this.” Look, if Georgia can’t win either line of scrimmage Monday, this is going to be the first Auburn game all over again. I just happen to think that Chaney’s learned a lot from that debacle and will be prepared to react, as he did in the SECCG, if Oklahoma has early success loading the box and stuffing the inside running game.
By the way, read the entirety of Boyd’s piece. He’s got some interesting things to say about the flaws that have plagued the Sooners defense most of the season. There are definitely areas for Jim Chaney to try to exploit, particularly in terms of the steps Stoops has taken to scheme to protect linebacker Caleb Kelly in coverage.
One thing about Ian’s “Georgia is much simpler as a rushing team than Kansas State” observation — and he’s a much sharper Xs and Os guy than I’ll ever be, so I take him at his word there — is that it took me through several game logs for a few teams to see how that sorted out. The Kansas State game was Oklahoma’s worst of the season in terms of defensive yards per carry (interestingly enough, the Iowa State loss involved one of their better efforts). Without Georgia playing the Wildcats it’s a little hard to provide complete context, but there is a common opponent between KSU and Georgia, and that’s Vanderbilt. You may remember that Kansas State lost to Vandy, but still managed to turn in one of its better rushing efforts of the season, gaining over 200 yards and averaging almost six yards a carry.
However, that pales in comparison to what Georgia did against Vanderbilt: 423 rushing yards; 7.83 ypc. Sometimes, success is more about execution than it is about scheme.
And I think in the end that’s where it all comes back to. If I have a fear it’s that it takes Georgia’s offense longer to sort itself out than Mayfield does against Georgia’s defense, and the Dawgs are looking at an early two or three score deficit. As Boyd concludes,
The Sooners have a large and talented if inconsistent defensive front and they’ll be keen to send numbers to stop the run and encourage Georgia to ask Jake Fromm to out duel Baker Mayfield in a shootout. If Georgia is going to rise above that and impose their will in the trenches then they’ll either have to slow down Mayfield or get going early on the ground in this game. That may be the battle to watch in this game.
As we saw on the Plains, Georgia isn’t really built for massive comebacks. It’s got to maintain some semblance of control on at least one side of the ball to win.