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4 questions Georgia must answer in the Rose Bowl
We’ve been building to College Football Playoff semifinal for almost a month now, but the final weekend before the
Rose Bowl showdown with Oklahoma is finally upon us. We’ll return on Monday — New Year’s Day — with a full wrap
up of everything you need to know about the Rose Bowl. Until then, I’ll leave you with these questions to ponder over
the holiday weekend.
1. Will Georgia’s pass rushers get to Baker Mayfield? If it’s been said once it’s been
said a thousand times, but the Rose Bowl will come down to the effectiveness of Mayfield against Georgia’s defense.
If Lorenzo Carter or Davin Bellamy or one of a number of talented UGA pass rushers can sack Mayfield or even just give him
a couple of licks early, it could mess with Oklahoma’s rhythm and change the entire dynamic of the game.
2. Can Jake Fromm have a transcendent performance? Georgia’s freshman signal caller has answered
every question asked of him and improved each week, concluding with a 183-yard, 2-touchdown showing in the SEC Championship
Game, his most poised performance of the year. He still hasn’t imposed his will on a game yet, though. There haven’t
been a lot of opportunities for such a moment, considering how heavily Georgia relies on its ground game, which it’ll
probably do once again against the Sooners. But with 13 games in his pocket, Fromm isn’t a greenhorn anymore. The time
for him to let it rip and take control is coming soon, whether it be this season or next. If that moment comes in the Rose
Bowl, Georgia’s chances of winning will receive a major boost.
3. What effect will special teams have on the outcome? The Oklahoma offense vs. Georgia defense is a strength-for-strength
matchup, while the OU defense and UGA offense are well-matched with perhaps a slight edge to the Bulldogs. Georgia is favored
by less than a field goal. All signs point to a big special teams play having major implications. There’s always the
possibility of a blocked kick or punt or even a trick play. I think Mecole
Hardman could house a punt. Oklahoma seems less
threatening in the return game. But with a two-point spread, a field goal is the most likely special teams play to make
a difference. Oklahoma kicker Austin Seibert and UGA kicker Rodrigo Blankenship both have 15 made field goals with a long
of 49 yards this season, so the difference could be who’s in better form on the day, or who gets more opportunities
to make his form count.
4. Can Georgia limit the mental mistakes and penalties? It was (understandably) glossed over in the wake
of SEC title celebrations, but Georgia committed plenty of boneheaded penalties in the SEC Championship Game. In the early
goings, I thought I was watching a repeat of the 40-17 loss on the Plains. Georgia committed 7 penalties for 75 yards in the
loss at Auburn and 7 penalties for 71 yards in the SEC Championship Game. In both games, penalties on third-downs extended
Auburn drives that ended in touchdowns. The Dawgs cleaned a lot of that up in the second half of the championship, which is
why they won 28-7, and it needs to stay that way. Oklahoma has the best, most explosive offense in the country. A single extra
play is all Mayfield and his crew need to put six on the board. Giving the Sooners free plays is just asking to have points
scored on you.
‘We blocked better’
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney made his bi-annual media appearance Thursday, a much more cheery meeting than his pre-Liberty
Bowl presser this time last year. That’s no surprise, considering his offense has transformed from a confusing mess
into the power running master class that was envisioned when Chaney was hired over the last 12 months.
Analysts, pundits and fans have spent plenty of time trying to dissect what has made the offense this year so much more
dynamic than the offense last year, with many pointing to a perceived uptick in run-pass options. But Chaney chalked the improvement
up to something a bit more simple: better blocking from better players. From
Seth Emerson of DawgNation:
“People think, ‘Let’s change, let’s put a wideout over here, a tight end over here.’ Hell, I want to block
better! I just want to block better,” Chaney said. “I sit here a year later, and you ask me what’s the difference in last
year and this year? We blocked better.”
So how did that happen? How did the offensive line improve despite losing three starters? That might also have been the
Year 2 and familiarity effect, with the players and line coach Sam Pittman getting used to each other. But personnel clearly
“Andrew [Thomas] coming in at right tackle and making that solid, and Isaiah [Wynn] moving out to the left, making us solid
on the edges, we had really good tackle play throughout the season,” Chaney said. “And the three inside guys have battled
hard. It’s been fun to watch those guys. But they play so hard as heck. I see that position on that offense growing to a standard
where we can do what we want in any game.”
Odds & Ends
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