The No. 15 ranked Texas Longhorns enter Tuesday’s Sugar Bowl matchup against the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs as 12.5-point underdogs. While the odds are completely against the Longhorns, as Tom Herman often notes, their best football is still good enough to beat a team like Georgia. But in order to do so, they must hold their ground in the trenches and battle against the Bulldogs dominate offensive line all game long.
Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney does an excellent job at mixing up the run and pass game. As an offense this season, the Bulldogs are averaging 478.8 total yards per game — 227.2 passing yards and 251.6 rushing yards (12th in NCAA) per game. With a big offensive line and talent at all skill positions, Georgia has the luxury to have their way on the ground and through the air.
Georgia comes into this game averaging 6.1 rush yards per carry. Led by the lightning and thunder combo of D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield, the Bulldogs have bullied teams with their dominant rush attack. Even against No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship, where the Bulldogs rushed for 151 yards and controlled the line-of-scrimmage throughout the game.
Talented true freshman James Cook, brother of former Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, will get some looks at running back, too. Chaney likes to use Cook on screens and runs to the outside.
It all stems from the big bodies up front, though. From left to right on the offensive line it goes LT Andrew Thomas (6’5 320 So.), LG Solomon Kindley (6’6 335 RSo.), C Lamont Gaillard (6’2 308 Sr.), RG Trey Hill (6’4 330 Fr.) / Cade Mays (6’6 318 Fr.) RT Isaiah Wilson (6’7 340 RFr.). Thomas and Gaillard were All-SEC first-team offensive lineman this season. Former five-star recruit and 340-pounder Isaiah Wilson sets the edge on the right side of the line. Texas’ defensive ends will have their hands full against Thomas and Wilson at the tackle positions.
Between the five likely starters, this unit averages 326 pounds per player. Oklahoma’s offensive line is the only somewhat comparable unit Texas has faced all season. Todd Orlando had his defense ready against the run in both games against Oklahoma. Can he do the same against one of the nation’s best rushing attacks?
It all begins with Chris Nelson’s presence up the middle. Matched up against Georgia’s interior lineman, Nelson must set the tone for the rest of the line. Along with Nelson, the other two senior defensive linemen must show out. Defensive ends Breckyn Hager and Charles Omenihu have to leave it all on the field against Georgia’s powerful offensive line in their final game. Considering Georgia’s style of play and how well they control the ball, Texas will be rotating defensive lineman in and out to maintain fresh bodies.
One interesting player to watch for in this one is true freshman outside linebacker/edge rusher Joseph Ossai. With another 15 practices under his belt and a month to prepare for this game, Ossai should get more reps than usual. Sometimes to compete with the best, you have to play your best. Ossai has proven in games that he’s one of the better edge players on this team.
The one weakness Texas can exploit against their offensive line may be in third and long situations. The Bulldogs allowed 18 sacks in 13 games. It will be a challenge to even get to a third and long situation against Georgia’s offense, as they rank 11th in third-down efficiency (47.7%) and 17th in third down-down success rate (47.4%). But if Texas is able to do so, the Longhorns pass rush has to make an impact. Todd Orlando needs to be aggressive but smart when dialing up pressure against quarterback Jake Fromm. Fromm has handled pressure well and can find open receivers against pressure with ease.
Georgia also utilizes their tight ends to contribute in both the block and pass game heavily. Tight ends Issac Nauta and Charlie Woerner play a huge role in Georgia’s offensive production. The two combined for 548 receiving yards on 38 catches this season.
At 6’5 245 pounds, Woerner is their key blocking tight end, especially in short-yardage situations. Longhorn linebackers and safeties will be tasked with the daunting challenge of defending against Nauta and Woerner in coverage. Junior safety Brandon Jones will have to be physical and effective against their big-bodied tight ends.
The game will likely be dictated by how well the Longhorns front seven plays against Georgia’s monstrous offensive line. If Georgia is gaining multiple yards per carry before the first point of contact, it could be a long night for Todd Orlando’s defense. Sustaining drives offensively will be crucial for the effectiveness and impact that the defense will make. They cannot afford to be on the field for 35-plus minutes against Georgia’s offense.
This game offers a real chance for Herman and the Longhorns to prove themselves against one of the nation’s best teams from college football’s top conference. Another step towards national prominence is on the line and this time it isn’t about a win or loss. It’s all about how well Texas plays on this big stage.