The Georgia-Oklahoma game will be analyzed to death the next several days. How can Oklahoma beat Georgia? How can Georgia beat Oklahoma? These are two teams that have had great seasons, so the discussion could be lengthy.
However, it’s rather simple and we don’t need to bury the lead. For me, we go to the one game Georgia lost. What happened in the game on Nov. 11 when Auburn beat the Bulldogs 40-17? Basically, it came down to one thing — Auburn stopped Georgia’s running game.
The Tigers outrushed Georgia 237-46. The next-lowest rushing amount for Georgia in one game this season was against Notre Dame, when they had 185 rushing yards. The Bulldogs ran for over 200 yards in eight other games, over 300 yards twice and over 400 yards against Vanderbilt.
Georgia has the nation’s 10th-best rushing offense this season, with seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel rushing for a combined 2,123 yards. When those two were shut down against Auburn, Georgia lost. So, this is not complicated. If Oklahoma can do it, they’ll likely beat the Bulldogs.
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If the Sooners can’t stop Georgia’s running game, they’ll hope for a shootout. They have the Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Baker Mayfield, who can put up great numbers. Georgia is second in the country in pass defense, allowing just 158 passing yards per game. Of course, they haven’t faced any quarterback like Mayfield this season.
But if Georgia keeps the ball on the ground, they’ll keep the ball out of Mayfield’s hands. That makes it even more imperative that Georgia has success running the football.
Oklahoma is in the Big 12, a conference that features passing-first teams. Of course, the SEC is all about running the football. Six SEC teams are in the Top 35 in rushing yards per game, while only one from the Big 12 – Oklahoma – is in the Top 35 nationally. Meanwhile, the Big 12 has seven teams ranked in the Top 36 nationally in passing yards per game, with the SEC having only two.
The Sooners haven’t faced a rushing team like Georgia. Only two of Oklahoma’s 12 different opponents were ranked in the Top 35 nationally in rushing yards per game. How did the Big 12’s leading rusher – Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill – do against Oklahoma? Hill had 228 rushing yards in the 62-52 loss to the Sooners. Oklahoma had to get into a shutout to win.
The Sooners have their own impressive running back, as Rodney Anderson’s legal issues are behind him and he’ll bring his 960 rushing yards this season to the game. Oklahoma’s three leading rushers combined for 2,212 yards, while Chubb, Michel and D’Andre Swift had a combined 2,720.
The only time a running back had his way with the Georgia defense this season was in the first Auburn game, when Kerryon Johnson had 167 rushing yards. Georgia did well the rest of the season against the run, holding Notre Dame’s Josh Adams (1,368 rush yards on the season) to 53 yards and Kentucky’s Benny Snell, Jr. (1,318) to 94 yards.
And when Georgia shut Johnson out in the second game against Auburn (and yes, Johnson was not completely healthy), it made a huge difference as the Bulldogs outrushed the Tigers 238-114.
Can Oklahoma stop all of Georgia’s running backs? Well, if they can, Georgia will know why they lost. But don’t forget about the improvement on the Georgia offensive line since the first Auburn game. The insertion of Ben Cleveland at right guard made a huge (literally) difference. Whatever happened on Nov. 11 against Auburn has since been fixed, as Georgia averaged 288.7 rushing yards in the last three games.
This may simply turn out to be who has the best day – Mayfield or Georgia’s running backs. And of course, the team that makes the most mistakes will be in trouble. But if Georgia must rely on its running backs to beat Oklahoma, most are going to feel great about the Bulldogs’ chances.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.