The more analysis I see, the more it sounds like most pundits expect the game to come down to Baker Mayfield versus the Georgia defense. As this chart demonstrates, Mayfield’s had a spectacular season in just about any way you’d expect a quarterback to perform.
There aren’t too many holes to pick there.
Just as daunting is this Seth Emerson piece where he goes about getting some of Oklahoma’s opponents over the past couple of seasons to give their impressions of ways to stop him.
The key seems to be play excellent defense. Seriously. Check out this series of comments from a Texas defensive back.
Texas cornerback DeShon Elliott, a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, was asked how to deal with Mayfield.
Elliott: “Blitz. Get to him. Because if you can just get to him then you should be OK. Other than that you won’t be able to. If you let him sit back there and just pat that ball he’s going to make plays. … You’ve got to be able to keep Baker in the pocket and keep him from being able to extend the pocket. Because if he’s able to extend the pocket and extend plays he’s going to score touchdowns. You’ve got to make sure you do your job and don’t bust coverages.”
Elliott: “To win games you’ve got to stop the run. So first of all you’ve got to stop Rodney [Anderson] and you’ve got to stop the freshman, No. 4 [Trey Sermon]. Other than that you should be good.”
Isn’t that easier said than done?
Elliott: “Oh yeah it’s easier said than done. We had a couple times in our game we thought we had [Mayfield]. Then he got out there and made a play. He’s just a great player; he’s an athlete. He’s going to make some plays. So you’ve got to do your job and just don’t give up big plays.”
Easy peasy. All you’ve got to do is pressure the quarterback, stop the run, keep Mayfield in the pocket and not give up big plays. If only every team that faced Oklahoma this season had known that. (By the way, Mayfield still managed to throw for 302 yards and 2 TDs against Elliott’s Texas team.)
Meanwhile, from SB Nation’s Oklahoma site comes the observation that “The Georgia defense is spectacular, but it’s not invincible“. It’s interesting to get the opposing viewpoint and the post is complimentary, and not in a back-handed way. It’s also not totally convincing.
It’s argument rests on two foundations: Missouri’s 28-point effort in Athens and, of course, Auburn’s blowout performance in the teams’ first meeting. The rebuttal to the second point is both obvious and largely ignored. This is what the article notes about Auburn’s offense in the SECCG:
Auburn sort of went away from the screen game in the SEC Championship, but credit Georgia for creating enough disruption up front to keep Auburn from doing much in the deep passing game that afternoon.
If by “sort of went away”, he means the Tigers had to abandon the screen game because Georgia’s defensive game plan smothered it, I suppose he’s got a point. Just like if “from doing much in the deep passing game” is his way of describing Stidham’s inability to complete a single deep throw all game, well, sure.
Turning to Missouri, there’s no question that Drew Lock burned Georgia on a couple of 63-yard touchdowns in the first half. Again, though, that was just a half. What happened in the second half was that the Missouri offense was shut down — 21 yards in the third quarter and 112 yards in the entire second half (the last score came in garbage time with Georgia up by 26).
Both examples are really examples of a bigger reality, namely, that Georgia is good with its adjustments on defense. Really good. Buuut… when I went to Bill Connelly’s team advanced stat profiles to verify that the Dawgs’ defense owned the third quarter this year (the defense finished second in S&P+), I also noticed something freaky. While Georgia’s offensive S&P+ ranking slowly declines quarter by quarter, you aren’t going to believe what happens to Oklahoma’s offensive ranking. It literally stays the same all four quarters and that ranking is first. The cliché about needing to play all four quarters will be job one for Tucker’s guys.
One other thing worth mentioning is that when it comes to giving up big plays, Georgia’s defense has been more stout than has Oklahoma’s. Here’s how the two teams rank based on distance:
It’s a pretty consistent picture. Now you can certainly argue that those rankings reflect the conferences the two teams play in (“Georgia’s defensive efficiency ranks 2nd, which is very good, but could be argued that it is skewed because the offenses they normally face haven’t been as capable as some of the offenses in the Big 12”), and I wouldn’t totally dismiss that. But you could just as easily argue that Georgia’s defense is more soundly coached to avoid giving up the big play.
The question left unanswered is what to take from all this. Beats me. I’m not the only one.
My final takeaway from all of this is that studying the metrics and statistics all day long will never truly tell me how this matchup will shake out, but the great debate between Georgia’s defense and Oklahoma’s offense will sort itself out on New Year’s Day in Pasadena. However, there’s reason for hope in the meantime.
Hope for both sides. I can’t wait to see how this game plays out.