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Georgia Football

Final Feelings: Must-Read Before Georgia-Cincinnati

December 30, 2020
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ATHENS - The No. 9 Bulldogs are facing No. 8 Cincinnati in the 2021 Peach Bowl on Friday. It is the Bulldogs’ fourth New Year’s Six bowl appearance in the last four years. Dean Legge, Matt DeBary and Dylan Webber take you though their final feelings before the game. 

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Matt’s Final Feelings

Alright ya’ll, Final Feelings time.

First off, hope everyone had a great Christmas with their family. It’s my favorite time of the year, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s might be the best week of the year. So many sports going on, and the weather has been quite nice for the last few weeks. 

I’m just glad 2020 is coming to an end. It wasn’t a terrible year for me personally, but I’m one of the lucky ones out there. It was a bad year for just about everything, including Georgia’s football season.

Things are heading into the right direction, but losing two games this fall was a giant disappointment. The terrible quarterback play for most of the season was as “2020” as it gets. Georgia lost to the two best teams they played this year, both in ugly fashion towards the end, but they’ll have a chance to start 2021 on a good note against the Bearcats.

Listen, I like Cincinnati. They’re a solid, well-coached football team who will give Georgia a fight. They’ll want to be there. They’re going to fight hard. And it’s probably one of the biggest games in their program’s history. Texas’ matchup with Georgia in the 2019 Sugar Bowl was their biggest game in years, and you could say the same thing about Baylor in last year’s Sugar Bowl.

It’s a BIG deal for anyone to play the Georgia Bulldogs, especially in the Sugar Bowl. While multiple Georgia players will be opting out, Cincinnati’s will be playing in the game of their lives. So the Bearcats aren’t going to roll over. That being said, Georgia should win this one in the 4th quarter. The Bearcats are a very balanced team, but they haven’t faced anyone remotely close to Georgia. Georgia’s rushing attack, even without multiple starters on the offensive line, should have their way in Cincinnati’s defense. If they stack the box, JT Daniels could have another monster game through the air.

Cincinnati will put some points up on the board. Georgia will be missing some key defenders, so I’m expecting some miscues here and there. The Bearcats are well coached offensively so they’re going to move the ball. 

I’ll take Georgia in a scrappy 35-27 victory. 

Now onto New Year’s Eve.

I don’t even know what to do with myself. Three years ago I rang in the new year with the Dawg Post crew in Los Angeles for the 2018 Rose Bowl Game. That was one hell of a trip. It was about 70 degrees out there to begin the year. The sun was out and Georgia fans took over Los Angeles for a few days. The Dawg Post bash a few days earlier was one of the highlights of the trip.

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The last two years the Dawg Post crew celebrated in New Orleans. We were in some random Bourbon Street bar to bring in 2019 and found another cool spot in 2020. We’ve had a great time on New Year’s Eve because the Dawgs are constantly playing in big games to open the year. That’s where the program is right now. 

The Peach Bowl is a big game too, but there won’t be any traveling this year, so I’ll be staying at home for New Year’s Eve. My fiancé will be down in Jacksonville Thursday night so I’ll have the house to myself with zero plans. I still have no clue how I’ll be celebrating. I’ve never been a big New Year’s Eve guy anyway, so it’ll be a little weird not celebrating the new year with Dean, Dylan and a few random drunk Georgia fans. 

Let’s talk about the Falcons real quick.

My Birds have a top-five pick. There’s no way they beat the Bucs on Sunday, right? I mean, that would be CLASSIC Falcons, but I’m going to assume they go up at least 14 at some point and blow the lead. 

So where do the Falcons go in the top five?

I’m all about trading back. If they trade back and can land an extra first-rounder in 2022 I’d be all about it. There are SO many holes on this team and they need to hit on as many picks as possible.

Matt Ryan’s career is coming towards an end. I’ve always stood up for Matt Ryan, and he still has a legitimate NFL arm, but he’s the easiest QB to sack in the league right now. He’s far from the biggest problem on the team, but it’s clear they need to start looking at other options soon.

I’d rather see them trade down, but if they do pick a quarterback under the new head coach, I’m hoping it’s Justin Fields instead of Zach Wilson. I think eventually, Justin Fields can lead the right team to a Super Bowl. He’s so dynamic, and he’ll have so sit longer than average first-round pick. But I think he has the tools to be a VERY good player on Sundays for a long time.

The first thing I want them to do is make the right hire on the GM and the head coach. Get that right FIRST, then focus on addressing the team’s needs the best way possible in the draft. I’m ready to roll with the Birds in 2021 either way. 

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Dylan’s Final Feelings

This matchup has seemed inevitable for awhile—ever since the game in Jacksonville. Sure, there were other possibilities, but UGA vs. Cincinnati was the odds-on favorite for the Peach Bowl since that day.

Dean, Matt and I were talking about it around that time. I remember saying Cincinnati would win and feeling very confident about it. And back then, I think that was a popular opinion.

That was before JT Daniels had stepped in, and before this entire Georgia team hit a hot streak. Now, instead of looking into a gloom-filled future, I reflect on the past with irrelevant optimism.

With the team Georgia will be trotting out on New Year’s day, I’m not sure if they would have held that lead against Alabama, but it wouldn’t have turned into the blowout that it was. 

They may have still lost to Florida, although it certainly would have been a tight, one-score game.

Cincinnati is a good team. I would go as far to say they are really good. They can still win this game, it’ll just be 10-times harder than it would’ve been two months ago. They’re catching a mostly-stocked Georgia team at the exact wrong time.

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There are a few opt-outs that will hurt the Dawgs, but nothing detrimental. On the offensive line, in the defensive backfield and at middle linebacker, Georgia has the depth to fill-in for Ben Cleveland, Eric Stokes and Monty Rice. They’ll hardly miss a beat coming up.

Georgia was able to keep maybe the only real irreplaceable player they have for this game—Jordan Davis. Whatever Cincinnati thought they could gain running the ball up the middle, they will have to rethink; Davis will gobble them all up. That’ll force Cincinnati to become one-dimensional, something maybe you can live with in the American Conference, but will lead to their demise in the Peach Bowl. 

Give me the Dawgs to win 31-21.

The American Athletic Conference deserves some credit, though, especially when you look at the dumpster fire on the west coast. The AAC at least fielded one good team, and a couple other semi-competent ones. I’m not sure if the Pac-12 can say the same. 

My Texas friend last night told me not to sleep on Colorado, that they were the best team in the Pac-12. If that’s the case, then the entire conference needs to be dismantled and split up. Maybe in better functioning conferences, these schools can learn to put together a decent football program. Not until three of them have well-oiled programs can they have their conference back.

Maybe I’m being harsh, but honestly, I think Cincinnati might be the best team in the Pac-12. I’m not sure if they’d win out, but I would take them to win the league. 

The more I think about it, the more I like this idea of taking away the Pac-12’s conference until they earn it. There just isn’t an excuse for USC and Oregon to both be this mediocre, and for as long as they are, we should split the teams up and give them to conferences all around the country.

If I ever run for political office, that will be my central campaign point. I hope you will enjoy those attack ads a little more than the ones we have going on now. 

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Dean’s Final Feelings

We’ve reached the end of 2020, and I know a lot of folks are really celebrating that. But not much is going to change from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day except for a lot of football. By fall 2021, however, a lot will be different than what we’ve experienced since last March. 

That list includes a lot more in the way of folks watching sports live, and what we can all expect to be a return to normal in the coming months. And Georgia has a lot on the line in 2021. Things will be different this coming fall for a lot of reasons on the field. 

I expect Georgia to return to the SEC Championship Game in 2021, but there are some 28 underclassmen who will have to make a decision about their futures before we know how well positioned the Bulldogs will be fore 2021. 

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The guys to keep an eye on are: JT Daniels, James Cook, Zamir White, Jordan Davis and Jamaree Salyer. 

It feels like most if not all of those players will return for the Bulldogs for 2021. I think Davis and Salyer are the most likely to return with Cook “probably” being the most likely to leave, but these are stabs in the dark. Cook has been on fire of late, but White and Daniels haven’t exactly been garbage the last three times the Bulldogs have played.

And it is possible that Georgia is only now starting to emerge as an offensive threat, and all it needed was a jumpstart in the form of really good quarterback play. It got that from Daniels at the end of the season. I’m not sure he’s done enough to leave, but did Jake Fromm do enough after the 2019 season? He was pretty unimpressive at times from October on in 2019. But was Fromm going to be a lot better in the draft if he came back to play at UGA in 2020? Probably not. 

The difference here is that it does really seem like Daniels could significantly improve his positioning in the NFL Draft in 2022 with a season like the last three games. Go back and watch him play at USC his freshman year… he’s playing much better right now than he did then. Folks in the NFL might want to see more, but he’s on the path of being a top 50 pick in 2022… I don’t see any way that happens in 2021 if he leaves early. 

But, again, the feel around the program is that more players will return in 2022 than leave. Last year players who knew they weren’t coming back and were likely high draft picks declared before the Sugar Bowl. D’Andre Swift, who dealt with some bad reporting at the time was the only highly-taken player who didn’t declare until after the bowl game. 

Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson both skipped the game and went in the first round. 

The lesson was learned after the 2019 Sugar Bowl loss to Texas that players who were not playing in the game would not be around the program. Even waffling about a decision to play in the game was enough for Kirby Smart to not permit at least one player from playing in the 2020 Sugar Bowl. 

At the end of the day folks should expect more Bulldogs back for 2021 than returned in 2020, but the question is which specific player we are taking about? Either way, it appears the Bulldogs are much better positioned at quarterback than they were heading into the Arkansas game in September 2020

That the program will get a normal spring season and run up to the season shouldn’t be ignored. That would have helped Georgia tremendously this past season because they didn’t have a returning QB. If they find themselves in that position this year they’ll be better positioned to deal with it. If they don’t then you know what you have to do to get likely Carson Beck or Brock Vandagriff or a transfer ready for the 2021 opener with Clemson, who will be losing a lot of firepower after three years of Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne in the backfield. 

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Speaking of powerful offenses, Cincinnati has been explosive for some time themselves. The Bearcats, who are seven-point underdogs in Atlanta to the Dawgs, have lost to two teams in their last two seasons - No. 5 Ohio State and No. 17 Memphis (twice). They’ve beaten UCLA, No. 18 UCF, Boston College, No. 22 Army, No. 16 SMU and No. 23 Tulsa in that time. 

So this is a team that’s very used to winning, and winning (here of late) against ranked teams. But all ranked teams are not created equally. Remember No. 3 Georgia beat No. 14 Tennessee? 

Yes, Tennessee was ranked. 

Cincinnati’s 42-0 loss at No. 5 Ohio State a year ago was a major setback for the program at the time. There was thought that the Beatcats could sneak into the CFP in 2019, but they would need a win - that win - to bolster their case. 

They got blown out after the first quarter. 

That was 22 games ago. It is sort of like using Georgia’s losses to Florida or Alabama to describe the way they are playing right now… two different teams… two different situations. 

Cincinnati has a really good quarterback. He can run - usually just under 70 yards a game - and can throw - usually about 230 yards a game. In other words, you can deal with the throwing if you contain the running. 

His worst game of the season came against Army when he had only five yards rushing to go along with 258 passing. Cincinnati won by 14, but it was a tough day for Ridder. The Bearcats were really slowed on the ground that day. He’s more likely to throw an interception on first down than any other down. He’s thrown more touchdowns on second down (8) than any other down. 

He’s probably thrown more picks on first down because Cincinnati really likes to throw it on first down. The Bearcats have thrown on first down 117 times - that’s far more than any other down they throw on. They’ve only attempted 50 third down passes this season. 

Ridder is his least productive self on third down. He’s averaging only 6.6 yards on third down completions, has a 127 QB rating (his worst) on third down and averages only five yards a run on third down (his worst). 

Cincinnati is actually pretty good at converting third downs (No. 14 in the nation; UGA is No. 11), but they are more lethal on first down. Third down could be like that for them because they rarely get to third down, and when they do it is third and short. 

This is about limiting Ridder all you can. It is clear he’s the reason why Cincinnati is in the Peach Bowl. Against No. 23 Tulsa, Ridder had 16 runs for 83 yards coupled with 19 for 29 passing for 269 yards and a touchdown.

Over 350 yards from one player? That’s pretty good production. That’s why Cincinnati is so dangerous. I think the problem for the Bearcats is that Ridder is going to be going up against a pretty good defense in Georgia. Yes, there will be some players missing for the Bulldogs, but Jordan Davis will be back. So you are missing Monty Rice and Eric Stokes, but you return the big man in the middle. 

Georgia has the No. 14 overall defense in the nation, and that’s with them facing the No. 5 and No. 9 overall offenses in the country. Cincinnati is the No. 20 overall offense in the nation, so they aren’t exactly slouches. To say: Cincinnati hasn’t seen a defense like Georgia’s… well they practice against the No. 9 defense in the country in the Bearcat defense; They beat No. 2 Army; and they just took down No. 24 Tulsa. 

But that’s about production. Has Cincinnati seen a defense like Georgia’s before?

In terms of players? No, not since last year’s Ohio State defense. 

This is a game Georgia should win. Penalties? Cincinnati is bad in that category, and that could be an issue for a Bearcat program that’s used to playing in lopsided games vs. teams they are a lot better than. I do wonder, too, about if the crowd will effect Cincinnati in some way in this game.

Georgia has played in front of fans each game this year. Only three times this year have the Bearcats played in front of people, and only one of those games was with more than 10,000 fans. 

This will be a different situation. Playing UGA in Atlanta in the Dome will make talking on offense more difficult this game than any other game Cincinnati has played this season. They’ve also not played in a dome in Luke Fickell’s time as coach there, and that takes some getting used to between the noise and the ceiling of the dome itself. 

And it is loud in there… seemingly always loud in there for no reason that matters. 

This is a good Cincinnati team. They have players. This talk from Kirby and them - it isn’t just lip service. The quarterback is a problem. He’s good. Georgia is going to have to sew him up, and make him earn yards. I don’t “think” this game is going to be a blowout, but I’m not sure folks are going to be sweating it in the fourth quarter, either. 

It is a game Georgia should win, and I expect they will.

 

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