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Texas passing game faces its toughest test of the season against Georgia

The Bulldogs have been nothing short of incredible against the pass, but the Longhorns provide a unique challenge.

NCAA Football: Austin Peay at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

For the second year in a row, the Texas Longhorns have an opportunity to take on an SEC foe under the national spotlight.

The Georgia Bulldogs were an Alabama Crimson Tide comeback away from playing for a national championship and present a unique challenge for the Longhorns. How do you beat a team that is as balanced as the Bulldogs?

Throughout the season, the Bulldogs pass defense has been nothing short of outstanding when looking at the advanced metrics.

Georgia is No. 3 in the nation in passing defense according to the S&P+ and No. 1 in the nation on passing downs. A down is considered a passing down when the offense faces a second down longer than eight or a third or fourth down longer than five, so when the Bulldogs know a pass is likely, there is nobody better.

On those same downs, however, the Bulldogs’ front has not consistently created pressure, nor disrupted opposing quarterbacks. They rank No. 39 in the country in sacks on passing downs, bringing down the quarterback on just 9.3% of those opportunities.

Overall, the Bulldogs have just 22 sacks all season, good enough for No. 101 in the country. Twelve of those sacks came in the final five games of the season, though, including a four-sack performance against Kentucky.

The Texas offensive line has been inconsistent at-best at protecting the quarterbacks, especially down the stretch.

Thirteen of the Longhorns’ 25 sacks allowed came throughout the final four games of the season, including five against the Texas Tech Red Raiders and three against the Iowa State Cyclones. Since the Georgia pass defense is so deadly on those probable passing downs, Texas cannot afford to end up behind the chains and let the Bulldogs’ secondary anticipate.

In the Sugar Bowl the answer may be one that will receive mixed reviews - play like a Big 12 team.

However, despite the overall statistical success, the Bulldogs have seen some struggles as of late.

Over the last five games, Georgia allowed 1,022 passing yards on 94 completions, a 10.87 yard per completion average. That comes in a full yard longer than their yearly average of 9.86, which is sixth-best in the country. That stretch includes a 287-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Massachusetts Minutemen and a 246-yard, two touchdown game against the aforementioned Crimson Tide.

The Longhorns, on the other hand, have seen continued success in the passing game over their final five games. Despite a 3-2 record over that stretch, Texas amassed 1,275 yards on 108 catches — 11.80 yards per reception — and 13 touchdowns.

Granted, Big 12 defenses catch a lot of heat, perhaps unnecessarily, the matchup struggles that the Texas receiving corps creates still exist regardless of the competition.

Most notably, though, the Bulldogs will be without their top pass defender, as Jim Thorpe Award winner Deandre Baker will sit out the bowl game as he prepares for the 2019 NFL Draft. Baker has not given up a pass touchdown in the last two seasons, so presumably with him in the game, the game plan presumably would put him on Collin Johnson one-on-one, allowing the Georgia defense to bracket Lil’Jordan Humphrey.

Without their top pass defender, the Bulldogs are left with a group of talented underclassmen at corner.

Eric Stokes has seen three starts for the Bulldogs this year. In his overall 12 appearances, he’s accounted for just 12 tackles, but a whopping eight pass breakups, more than half of Walker’s total as a starter.

Opposite of Stokes will likely be blue chip freshman Tyson Campbell. 2018’s No. 2 cornerback according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Campbell has already been a key contributor for the Bulldogs this season, starting the first 10 games of the season. The former five star corner has appeared in all 13 games this season and has the potential to be a lockdown corner. He still yields four inches to Johnson, whose biggest upside according to many scouts is his ability to win 50/50 balls.

As Texas heads into final preparations for Tuesday’s matchupt, the pressure mounts on the offense to produce and keep the Longhorns in the game. If Texas manages to move the ball like it has in its best games, then they have a chance to pull off what most would consider an upset over the nation’s No. 5 team.