Fearless Prediction: Georgia vs. Cincinnati in Peach Bowl
It’s almost Peach Bowl time. And while a major bowl is familiar territory for the Georgia Bulldogs, it’s new ground for the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Cincinnati will enter Atlanta with no opt-outs nor major injuries and, as I wrote on Monday, will have very little to lose in their first-ever New Year’s 6 bowl.
Georgia, of course, will have several key players unavailable for this one. Dawgs fans should be used to this by now, especially before and after last year’s Sugar Bowl against Baylor. But will the result for Georgia be the same as it was on New Year’s Day 2020?
First things first: This is a Bearcats offense the Dawgs can ill afford to take lightly.
I mentioned on Monday that quarterback Desmond Ridder will be a handful for the Georgia defense. And if he can’t find anything down the field, he’ll gladly keep it himself and pick up yardage on the ground. The good news is that Dawgs linebacker Azeez Ojulari — a potential opt-out candidate — actually won’t be opting out after all and will indeed be playing, along with Jordan Davis in the defensive front and Mark Webb in the backfield. We do know for sure that cornerbacks DJ Daniel and Eric Stokes and linebacker Monty Rice won’t be available, though.
From a passing standpoint, the Bearcats frequently utilize tight end Josh Whyle (25 catches, 318 yards, 5 touchdowns), while Jayshon Jackson leads the way among receivers (22 catches, 309 yards, 1 TD).
I haven’t mentioned Alec Pierce, the top returning wideout from last year, who missed a good chunk of the year due to a knee injury but enjoyed a terrific performance in the AAC Championship Game on Dec. 19. Then there’s all-purpose threat Gerrid Doaks, a versatile weapon in the Bearcats’ arsenal and just one more player for the Dawgs to keep an eye on.
Fortunately, with Davis anchoring the defensive line, Georgia should have no trouble bottling up Doaks and Jerome Ford (7 rushing touchdowns) on the ground. Keep in mind that Doaks is banged up and will likely be at less than 100 percent despite giving it a go.
But the absences of Daniel, Rice and Stokes, plus Jermaine Johnson (who transferred to Florida State), is a major talking point for this defense. It could get a boost if Richard LeCounte is able to play. But there are a few soft spots that concern me, especially in the secondary. And even if LeCounte is in the lineup, he’ll be quite rusty after having not played in a while. Ojulari’s availability is enormous and will help the Dawgs defense keep Ridder honest if he looks to run.
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Flipping the page, this could ultimately come down to how JT Daniels holds up against a stiff Bearcats pass rush led by Myjai Sanders.
I’ve mentioned that this is easily the best defense Daniels has faced in his short time as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback, and while Sanders will be leading the way, there are 6 Bearcats who have recorded 2.0 sacks or more. But flip that around and take into account that this is, top to bottom, the best offense the Bearcats have faced this year. Georgia’s strengths along the front 5 and in the receiving corps certainly cancel out the defensive advantages the Bearcats have enjoyed against an AAC schedule.
The running game will be crucial against a Bearcats defensive front that has been rather stingy this season (albeit nowhere near the level of Georgia’s). Again, though, it has not gone up against a running attack with the strengths and challenges that the Dawgs present.
Zamir White is obviously the bellcow out of the backfield, but the Dawgs’ ability to change the pace and have James Cook and Kenny McIntosh available to spell the redshirt sophomore gives them a huge edge in this department. However, Cook is likely out for Friday due to the death of his father, so we’ll certainly see more of Daijun Edwards in this game as he has impressed when given the opportunity. Kendall Milton, who has missed a good bit of the season due to injury, is projected to be available on Friday but most likely will be eased into things.
All in all, the Bearcats are a very talented team, and they will make their plays early to keep things interesting going into halftime, primarily taking advantage of those soft spots in the secondary I’ve mentioned. And while I was tempted to say that the Dawgs would turn it into a blowout in the 2nd half, I have a feeling that it might remain somewhat close through all 60 minutes before Georgia’s talent and depth win out in the end.
FEARLESS PREDICTION: Georgia 41, Cincinnati 31.
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