ATLANTA— The Post’s Zach Braziller breaks down the Peach Bowl (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN) between No. 1 Georgia and No. 4 Ohio State at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
When Georgia has the ball
Georgia is more balanced than its national championship team was last year, ranked in the top 20 in rushing and passing. Quarterback Stetson Bennett set career highs in completion percentage (68.1) and passing yards (3,425) and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting. The backfield has incredible depth, three different players with at least six rushing touchdowns and 533 yards on the ground. There are injury concerns, though, questions of whether top receiver Ladd McConkey and starting right tackle Warren McClendon will be at full strength, or even able to play, after both suffered knee injuries in the SEC Championship game. The Ohio State defense is 12th nationally in yards allowed and 13th in points allowed, but that unit is susceptible to the big play. Michigan gashed the Buckeyes for five touchdowns of 45 yards or longer, and the defense allowed mediocre Maryland to pile up over 400 yards of offense in the previous game. That cannot happen on Saturday for Ohio State to have a chance to pull the upset.
When Ohio State has the ball
If there is one area to attack Georgia, it is down the field. The Bulldogs’ passing defense, which is ranked 49th in the country, can be shaky. But that means slowing down this unit’s fierce front seven led by superstar defensive lineman Jalen Carter. Getting sturdy right guard Matthew Jones back from a right foot injury will help quarterback C.J. Stroud. Still, Ohio State will have to run the ball to keep Georgia honest, and that will be a difficult task. The Bulldogs lead the country in rushing defense at a paltry 77 yards per game. The Buckeyes also won’t have two of their top weapons, wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and running back TreVeyon Henderson, putting the onus on Stroud and dynamic receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. to have big games.
The two kickers, Georgia’s Jack Podlesny and Ohio State’s Noah Ruggles, are dependable, missing a combined five field goals all season. Buckeyes punter Jesse Mirco is in the top 10, averaging 45.59 yards per attempt. One area to watch: Ohio State safety Lathan Ransom blocked two kicks this year.
Edge: Ohio State
Kirby Smart returned just 10 starters, but his team didn’t miss a beat, an impressive nod to elite recruiting and talent development. The Bulldogs outscored the opposition by an absurd 509-166. Their eight SEC opponents managed just 97 points. Smart has won 29 of his last 30 games. That doesn’t happen by accident. Ohio State coach Ryan Day, meanwhile, needs a good showing here, after a second straight lopsided loss to Michigan in The Game. The Buckeyes only reached the playoff because USC was smoked by Utah in the Pac-12 title game.
Players who could decide the game (non-quarterbacks)
Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia
One of the country’s premier tight ends is a mismatch nightmare — too strong for defensive backs and too quick for linebackers. After a sensational freshman year, he put up solid numbers as a sophomore, catching 52 passes for 726 yards and six touchdowns. Bowers has come on of late, scoring touchdowns in three of his last four games, an ominous sign for Ohio State.
Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
Arguably the best defensive player in the country and a projected high first-round pick, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Carter is big, physical and fast. He’s a game-wrecker, not only drawing double- and triple-teams, but frequently making impact plays despite that extra attention. His numbers — seven tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles — don’t accurately illustrate his value.
Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State
The sophomore is the most dangerous playmaker in this game, a dynamic threat who has six games of more than 100 yards receiving and is fourth in the nation in touchdown catches with 12. And, as noted earlier, if there is one area Georgia’s defense can be hurt, it is down the field.
The narrative doesn’t match the spread. Ohio State isn’t being given enough of a chance here, when you consider it is only a six-point underdog and lost just once all year, to another playoff team. Stroud will hurt Georgia down the field. The Buckeyes’ defense will not get blown off the ball. This will be a one-score game deep into the fourth quarter, before Bennett and Bowers connect to cap a long scoring drive and send the Bulldogs back to the national championship game.
Georgia 38, Ohio State 28