College football: Being elite the norm for Ohio State, Georgia

ATLANTA — Georgia wants a repeat. Ohio State wants redemption.

That sums up the College Football Playoff semifinal game between OSU and Georgia in the Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday night.

If Georgia (13-0) wins it will be one step away from back-to-back national championships, which last happened in college football when Alabama did it in 2011 and 2012.

If Ohio State (11-1) wins, it could quell some of the negativity poured on the Buckeyes after losing to Michigan for the second season in a row.

Michigan and TCU will play in the other CFP semifinal this afternoon.

The Buckeyes were a lock to make the playoff if they had beaten Michigan. Instead, they had to have USC lose to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game to get into the four-team field.

The loss to Michigan stung but a second chance at the playoff re-energized OSU.

“When you have something taken away from you, it does give you a little bit more appreciation for what it is. We’ll see how we play, but it has been a great month,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Friday at a press conference he shared with Georgia coach Kirby Smart.

Georgia is 79-15 in Smart’s seven seasons as its head coach. Even though the Bulldogs returned less than half the starters from last season’s national champions, the expectation was that they could make a run at the national title again.

“There’s always been pressure. There’s just as much pressure from Year 1 to Year 7. The expectations don’t change. We embrace that,” Smart said.

Even though Day is 40-5 as OSU’s head coach there were media stories asking if he was on the hot seat and some fans called for him to be fired after a 45-23 loss to Michigan. So he is no stranger to pressure.

“The expectations at Ohio State and Georgia are the highest level, and we embrace that. Our players embrace that. That’s why you come to Ohio State is to be in situations like this and play in games like this and go compete for a national championship. We talk about that in recruiting. We identify those who look to achieve that and want to be elite,” Day said.

Ohio State ranks No. 2 nationally in scoring (44.5) and thirteenth in points allowed (19.2).

OSU quarterback C.J. Stroud was third in the Heisman Trophy voting. Miyan Williams leads Ohio State in rushing with 817. Kicker Noah Ruggles is 15 of 17 on field goals. The Buckeyes are missing two players expected to be huge parts of their offense going into the season – receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and running back TreVeyon Henderson.

Georgia ranks No. 10 nationally in points scored (39.2) and second in points allowed (12.8). Its quarterback Stetson Bennett was fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Kenny McIntosh led the Bulldogs in rushing with 709 yards and two other running backs went over 500 yards.

Tight end Brock Bowers is Georgia’s leading receiver with 52 catches. Kicker Jack Podlesny is 23 of 26 on field goals.

Both coaches talked about the importance of defense in Saturday night’s game.

“When you’re playing Ohio State, you’ve got to be disruptive. You’ve got to affect the quarterback some kind of way. Because, if you don’t, he’s very accurate. He’s a very accurate passer who knows where he’s going with the ball. When you give them free access with a quarterback like that, they can wear you out,’ Smart said.

Day said, “You see the statistics. You see the way they played all year. So they’re a complete defense. When you get to this level of the College Football Playoff, that’s what you’re going to get, and that’s the biggest challenge. So we have to execute at a high level.”

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.

Jim Naveau has covered local and high school sports for The Lima News since 1978 and Ohio State football since 1992. His OSU coverage appears in more than 30 newspapers. Naveau, a Miami University graduate, also worked at the Greenville Advocate and the Piqua Daily Call. He has seen every boys state basketball tournament since 1977. Reach him at [email protected] or 567-242-0414.