“We had some lapses in that game during the second half,” Georgia cornerback Kamari Lassiter said. “We just really needed to re-center and re-focus after that win. ... You know, just get back to the basics.”
The premier matchup of the game will be the Bulldogs’ star cornerback Kelee Ringo and Ohio State wideout Marvin Harrison. A sophomore, Harrison was a unanimous All-American after catching 72 passes for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Ringo also is a sophomore, but having been redshirted because he underwent shoulder surgery as an incoming freshman. He is expected to be an early-round NFL draft choice in April. Some early projections have him as a first-rounder.
Ringo insists he hasn’t made a decision on his future. However, what he is able to do against Harrison and the Buckeyes might be the ultimate determining factor.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a child,” Ringo said of playing in the NFL. “But, man, I’m just trying to keep my feet where they are and continue to work. I feel like that’s the best thing I can do. The rest will fall into place.”
None of Georgia’s defensive backs played particularly well against LSU, but they have come through in a big way in other games against pass-happy opponents. The most notable was against No. 1 Tennessee on Nov. 5. The Volunteers threw for only 195 yards, and Ringo had an interception in the 27-13 Georgia victory.
“They definitely have a few things in common as far as being explosive offenses,” Ringo said of Tennessee and Ohio State. “(The Buckeyes are) electric. They like to throw the football down the field. But that’s something we like as a defense as well. That gives us more opportunities to be able to locate the ball in the air and make a play on it.”
The most difficult part of defending the Buckeyes’ passing game is that have so many options. Emeka Egbuke has hauled in 66 passes for 1,039 yards and another nine scores. Stroud also likes to target tight end Cade Stover, who has been good for 399 yards and five scores, as well as slotback Julian Fleming (29-462-6).
For that reason, it’s not expected to be a one-man show on either side.
“You want to make every play, but you can’t do that sometimes,” Lassiter said. “With the pace of the game, you’ve got 10 other guys counting on you, and then you’ve got a whole team counting on you to do your job. So, I mean, you might get beat every once in a while, but the main thing is how you respond.”
Praise for Peach Bowl
The last press conference of the week was held Friday morning at the Westin Peachtree Plaza, which has been the headquarters this week for the 55th Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. It was the joint head coaches’ press conference, which is most important to photographers longing to get the annual pose-with-the-trophy shot.
Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Ohio State’s Ryan Day did that, but not until after CEO Gary Stokan delivered an extensive “State of the Peach Bowl” address and the coaches answered another round of questions for a half-hour.
Both Smart and Day seemed genuine in their praise for the Peach Bowl for being well-organized and running an efficient operation. Both teams stayed downtown – the Bulldogs in the Marriott Marquis and the Buckeyes in the Omni Hotel – and practiced all week nearby at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Everything has been very convenient for our players,” Day said. “A lot of times when you’re at a bowl trip, you spend a lot of time on buses moving around. Didn’t happen this week. We were able to kind of get in and out of places very fast. Our guys have enjoyed their time here in Atlanta.”
Said Smart: “Very convenient, like Ryan said. I can remember bowl games where it’s 30-minute rides, 20-minute rides from location to location. You never deal with that here. So, the efficiency of things has been tremendous.”
Each team receives $6 million for participating in the game.
Bowl bonuses for players?
Georgia and Ohio State players received gifts for playing in the semifinal, as per usual. But discussions are underway for players to receive more substantial compensation in the future to participate in the playoff. They’ve been referred to as “bonuses.”
Smart and Day were asked Friday what that compensation should look like.
“I don’t think you can put a number on that,” Smart said. “I don’t think it’s fair for me to sit here and assess that number without studies and values. I think the NIL opportunities our players have gotten have been tremendous for them, in terms of creating a lot of opportunity for themselves and a chance to help their families.”
Said Day: “I do think there should be something for them, for sure. I think what they’re doing now is great, but I know moving down the road, there should be more.”
Smart revealed that the CFP already provides a transportation allowance for players’ families to be able to get to games. He called it a “handsome check.”
“These (playoff) locations are tremendously hard to get to,” he said. “You’re talking about two-night minimums; you’re talking about New Year’s Eve. Those are things that I know when I was a player, the parents weren’t afforded. So, it’s come quite a ways.”
Final injury update
Smart offered the same answer Friday that he has all week about the availability of offensive starters Ladd McConkey (knee) and Warren McClendon (knee).
“We’re still hopeful to get Ladd and Warren back,” he said.
The consensus is that the slotback McConkey is good to go and that right tackle McClendon could play but won’t if backup Amarius Mims is doing a good-enough job.
Meanwhile, Day confirmed that Miyan Williams, Ohio State’s leading rusher with 817 yards and 13 touchdowns, definitely will play. Williams missed some practices this week because of an illness.