ATLANTA - It has been nearly a month since the Georgia Bulldogs punched their ticket into the College Football Playoff Rose Bowl.
The Bulldogs flew out of Atlanta Tuesday afternoon and landed in Los Angeles Tuesday evening after a five-hour flight.
With only days until Georgia faces Oklahoma in the 104th Rose Bowl, Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart and his team will continue to prepare for the Sooners offensive threat, with hopes of earning a spot in the 2018 CFP national championship in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the place where the Bulldogs played and won their last game -- defeating Auburn 28-7 in the 2017 SEC championship.
For the first time since 1993 and only 2nd time ever, the @HeismanTrophy winner will face off against the Butkus Award winner in a bowl game. The '93 winners, Charlie Ward (FSU) and Trev Albert (Neb), went head to head in the 1994 @OrangeBowl. pic.twitter.com/J6InF4OWTv— Rose Bowl Game (@rosebowlgame) December 10, 2017
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A revenge win against Auburn was the perfect way for Georgia (12-1) to cap a magical regular season, but the Bulldogs are ready to go after all the marbles and finish the process in the "Granddaddy of them All' on New Year's Day.
However, the Bulldogs know it will not be an easy task.
Georgia will be tasked with stopping the Sooners' high-powered, widespread offense led by 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, who also was named the Associated Press National Player of the Year and won the Walter Camp Award as the national player of the year, the Maxwell Award as the national player of the year and the Davey O'Brian Award as the nation's top quarterback.
Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart has much respect for Mayfield and his ability to lead the Sooners’ offense.
“I tell people all the time, [Mayfield] is entertaining to watch,” Smart said during ESPN’s selection show. “He’s unbelievably talented. He’s got great athletic ability. He seems like he’s been playing forever. He’s what college football is all about. He embraces it, he loves it. I love the way he plays the game.”
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- Georgia vs. Oklahoma will be matchup of pure offense vs. defense
Mayfield has torched opposing defenses with eye-popping numbers, throwing for 4,340 yards, 41 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also rushed for 310 yards and five touchdowns.
In Oklahoma’s 41-17 win against TCU in the Big 12 championship, Mayfield finished with 243 yards and four touchdowns passing, and 65 rushing yards.
As a unit, the Sooners are first in total offense per game (average 583 yards), third in pass offense (average 392 yards) and fourth in scoring offense (nearly 45 points per game).
While the running game is always in the shadows of the Sooners' deadly passing attack, Oklahoma (12-1) ranks 27th in rush offense, averaging 216 yards on the ground.
Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson has rushed for 960 yards and 11 touchdowns this year, averaging 5.9 yards per carry.
The Sooners’ offensive dominance will be put to the test against Georgia’s physical defense.
Led by Butkus Award winner and linebacker Roquan Smith, the Bulldogs will enter the semifinal game ranked fourth in total defense, giving up an average of 271 yards to their opponents per game.
Smith led the team in tackles with 113 with 72 of them being solo, followed by defensive back J.R. Reed, linebacker and offensive lineman Lorenzo Carter, defensive back Aaron Davis and defensive back Deandre Baker.
Against the run, Georgia is 12th nationally (giving up 113 per game) and second in passing yards allowed (158 yards per game) and 17th against the run.
Defensively, the Bulldogs will need to get pressure on Mayfield, not allowing him to sit in the pocket and pick apart the secondary.
The likelihood for the Sooners to accumulate more than 150 yards through the air is very high, even if Georgia does get pressure up front from the defensive line.
The key for Georgia, however, will be limiting the big pass plays over the top, preventing the Sooners from running up the scoreboard for 30 points before halftime.
If Georgia can keep Oklahoma from getting in a high-scoring match with solid defense, things will be very favorable for the Bulldogs to punch their ticket to Atlanta for the national championship.
Part of keeping the Sooners’ offense off the field is Georgia controlling the time of possession in the game and the Bulldogs’ offense staying on the field. Georgia ranks 17th in time of possession (32:00) while Oklahoma sits at 25th (31:00).
To remain on the field, it means Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm must be consistent and efficient in the passing game. In order for the freshman quarterback to pass the ball, the running game with Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and D'Andre Swift must be locked and loaded from the very start of the game.
Chubb rushed for 1,175 yards, recorded 13 touchdowns and averaged over six yards per carry. His counterpart, Michel, finished with 948 yards, 13 touchdowns with just over seven yards per carry.
Swift tallied 597 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and one receiving touchdown.
Considering the Sooners' defensive stats -- 57th in total defense, 44th in rush defense, 82nd in pass defense and 52nd in scoring defense -- Smart’s Bulldogs could see very balanced day on offense on New Year’s Day in Pasadena.
If Oklahoma’s defense is vulnerable, much like it has been all season, it could make for a major advantage for Georgia.
Oklahoma is no stranger to SEC opponents in bowl games, and the Sooners are 2-3 in those matchups.
In the Sooners' bowl game last year, Oklahoma defeated Auburn, 35-19. Going further back, however, Oklahoma lost to LSU and Florida in the 2004 and 2009 BCS championship games and Texas A&M defeated the Sooners 41-13 in the 2013 Cotton Bowl.
This year's Rose Bowl marks the first time these two programs have played each other and the second time both teams have played in a Rose Bowl.
Mayfield versus the Bulldogs’ defense will be the difference-maker as to which team wins and makes its long-awaited trip to downtown Atlanta for the national championship game on Jan. 8.
Kickoff for the Rose Bowl is set for 5 p.m.
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