Well, it’s almost here...
After nearly a month-long break from game action, the Oklahoma Sooners will finally be back in action tomorrow when they face the Georgia Bulldogs in the Rose Bowl. To help fill us in on the Dawgs, Jeremy Attaway (@MaconDawg) of Dawg Sports (SB Nation’s Georgia site) has stopped by to answer some of our questions. We cover all sort of things, such as the UGA backfield, wings in Atlanta, the Athens music scene and more!
So the conversation around this game has been dominated by the matchup between Oklahoma's offense (particularly Baker Mayfield) and Georgia's elite defense. How do most UGA fans feel about this matchup, and how much success do you envision Oklahoma having offensively on Monday?
I think Georgia fans are cognizant of the fact that the Sooners and Baker Mayfield are going to get theirs. Before the season (and in fact before Bob Stoops announced his retirement) the Georgia offensive coaches flew out to Norman to meet with Lincoln Riley to talk offense. There's a reason for that: Oklahoma is as innovative and executes as well as anyone in the country on the offensive side of the ball. I expect Kirby Smart and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will try to make Oklahoma go the length of the field on every possession. I expect them to also try to limit big plays. Even for a good offense, it's hard to go 75 yards on every possession, and it gets doubly hard if you can't get yardage in chunks. If the Bulldogs can do those two things, which they've done very well so far this season, Bulldog fans think they have a shot in this one.
Conversely, there have been a lot of questions as to whether or not Oklahoma's defense can hold its own against UGA's running game. What makes this rushing attack so special?
The UGA rushing attack has shown dramatic improvement this season thanks to two phenomena. One is the health of the tailback rotation. Georgia plays five tailbacks every game. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are certainly the headliners. But running backs coach Dell McGee has also gotten great work out of freshman D'Andre Swift, as well as sophomores Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien. Those guys have eaten up carries and allowed Georgia to keep Chubb and Michel fresh in the second half, which is when they've done some of their best work.
The other part of the mix is an offensive line that has mixed veteran leaders and talented young players to great effect. Isaiah Wynn is a bit undersized at left tackle but was voted first team All-SEC by league coaches. He's a technician who uses great feet and consistent hand position to get leverage in the run game. He's also among the national leaders in sacks allowed (if memory serves he's given up one sack this season). He's joined by redshirt junior center Lamont Gaillard who's really come into his own this season. The 'Dawgs have also gotten solid contributions from redshirt freshmen Ben Cleveland and Solomon Kindley at guard, and true freshman Andrew Thomas, who has started every game at right tackle and looks like a future star.
Georgia has used a mix of man and zone blocking schemes to create space for those elite tailbacks. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney makes no secret of the fact that he's going to run the ball more than he throws it. But Georgia has simply been more physical both up front and in the backfield than their opponents.
Speaking of the UGA rushing attack, the Dawgs have a three-headed monster of Chubb, Michel and Swift in the backfield. What do each of these backs bring to the table? What are their strengths?
Chubb is the starter and will likely get more carries than the other backs, though not a majority of the snaps. He's a big, bruising tailback with a low center of gravity who's hard to bring down once he gets a head of steam. Sony Michel has a reputation as a "change of pace back", but in the Bulldog offense that's a relative term. Michel is 6'1, 215 pounds and plenty capable of punishing defenders himself. Swift is another fire plug of a back who also has great hands out of the backfield. Georgia's offense includes some RPO stuff, maybe 4-6 times a game. But for the most part the rushing attack is just about opening holes for these guys until eventually they break one. When that starts happening, Georgia has gotten away from opponents in a hurry.
One topic that seems to have been overlooked is UGA's group of receivers and the impact they might have. Which receivers should OU fans be keeping an eye on? Which receiver is most likely to make a big play?
Senior Javon Wims (6'4, 220) is the team's leading receiver, a big-bodied guy with unbelievable hands. Your odd statistic of the day: Wims actually has three touchdown catches this season which were ruled incompletions before being reversed on replay. He's just that good at making catches that don't even look real. Junior Terry Godwin's made some unreal grabs of his own this season and may be the most versatile receiver in the group. But the guy I'd keep an eye on is redshirt freshman Mecole Hardman. Hardman is perhaps the most athletic player on the Bulldog offense. He's scored this season on screen passes, deep routes, jet sweeps, and end arounds. With nearly a month to scheme I expect Jim Chaney to try to find innovative ways to get Hardman the ball.
Going back to the defense, what types of adjustments will this defense make against a type of offense that they don't typically see?
I think that's really the question everyone is wondering about. One positive for Georgia is that their defense is really built to run. There's speed at every level, which has been built in response to perennial opponents like Auburn and Missouri who run wide-open offenses. So the building blocks to defend Oklahoma are there. If I had to guess, I'd imagine that the UGA coaches have worked hard on defending the RPO game and open field tackling. If there's a part of the Sooner offense that worries me most it's their ability to get receivers and backs into the open field one-on-one with defenders. That's something Georgia will have to address.
Who serves the best wings in Atlanta?
I'm partial to the smoked wings at Fox Bros. BBQ. But I'm willing to bet the best wings are probably at a place with a name I can't pronounce and to which I have never been on Buford Highway.
Who is your favorite band or artist to ever come out of Athens, GA? I'm quite partial to Widespread Panic myself.
The R.E.M. Monster World Tour show I saw at the old Omni in Atlanta as a teenager remains the standard by which I judge all live concerts. Those guys do not get enough credit as a live act, especially in their late 80's to mid 90's prime. But for me the answer has to be the Drive-By Truckers. The Truckers' rise to popularity occurred around the time I was in college and law school, and it was exceptionally cool for a kid who was musically influenced by a lot of the same artists. It's something special to hear a band make the music you wish you could make if you had the talent for it. The DBTs do that for me.
Georgia fans seem to be pretty excited about this game for a number of reasons, and all indications point to UGA having a bit of a crowd advantage in Pasadena. Can you describe the hype in Georgia surrounding this game?
It's the biggest game in school history since the beginning of this month. In all seriousness, UGA fans largely feel as if they're playing with house money. In the second year of what they thought was a program rebuilding project, with a true freshman quarterback, this season is a dream come true.
What should traveling Oklahoma fans know about Georgia fans before interacting with them?
UGA alumna Amanda Mull recently described Georgia fans as "well-scrubbed and employed-looking." That's about as good a description as I can muster. Bulldog fans are by and large not quite as rabid a bunch as LSU and Alabama fans, and joke (not without a grain of truth) that Auburn and Ole Miss are full of Peach State students who couldn't get into school in Athens. As someone who has family among the Missouri fanbase, I'd describe Georgia fans as Missouri fans with a drinking problem and a tendency to drop William Faulkner quotes. But we're generally a fun bunch and pride ourselves on our Southern hospitality. It'll be fun, I promise.
Who is the greatest Georgian of all time?
Herschel By God Walker. Next.
Who would win in a fight -- Herschel Walker or Roquan Smith?
Herschel By God Walker. Next.
How do you see this one shaking out? What's your final score prediction?
I have a preternatural calm about this one, which is usually a terrible sign. I'm worried that Baker Mayfield comes out and plays with his hair on fire, and I'm a little worried about the young Bulldogs playing a little tight given the stakes and the layoff. I'm going Oklahoma 34, Georgia 27. My caveat would be this: if the Bulldogs rush for over 200 yards and can get an early turnover, I like their chances. The Sooners haven't turned it over much, so a departure from the mean in this game might be enough to knock the wheels off their wagon.