PASADENA, Calif. – The 104th Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual will feature programs appearing for just the second time in their histories. Oklahoma, which won here in 2003, and Georgia, which won 75 years ago, will meet in a semifinal of the College Football Playoff for a spot in the national championship game in Atlanta on Jan. 8.
Sarah Bahr and Alaa Abdeldaiem of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI analyze the factors that could lead each team to win – and lose.
Sarah Bahr: Why Georgia will win
If the nation’s No. 4 defense can put pressure on Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, forcing him to make off-balance throws outside the pocket, and Georgia tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel can rack up chunk yardage in the ground game, the Bulldogs will come out on top. The Sooner defense, a unit not ranked in the top 50 among FBS teams, is not in the same league as the Oklahoma’s No. 1 offense — a discrepancy Georgia should exploit. In Oklahoma’s only loss of the season, the Sooner defense gave up four consecutive scoring drives in the middle of the game as Iowa State racked up 449 yards of offense in a contest that, according to OddsShark, Oklahoma was favored to win by 31 points.
The Georgia defense ranks No. 2 in the FBS in passing yards allowed, giving up only 158.3 yards per game through the air. While Oklahoma’s No. 1 offense averages 583.3 yards per game, if the Georgia D can limit Mayfield, then Chubb and Michel can take care of the rest. A repeat of Butkus-Award-winning linebacker Roquan Smith’s dominating 13-tackle, one-sack, two-fumble-recovery defensive performance in last month’s Southeastern Conference Championship game wouldn’t hurt.
Sarah Bahr: Why Georgia will lose
Assuming Oklahoma’s Heisman-winning quarterback makes it on the field on Monday (he’s been dogged this week by an unspecified illness), he’ll be a challenge to contain if the Bulldogs let him get on a roll. The key for Georgia is to restrict him before he has a chance to get going. If Oklahoma’s offensive line can keep Mayfield upright and buy him time in the pocket, and if the Sooner defensive front seven can limit Georgia’s run game, the Sooners’ 367.4-yards-per-game offense could obliterate Georgia’s title chances. In the Bulldogs’ sole loss this season to then-No. 2 Auburn, the Tigers held Georgia to 46 net rushing yards. If Oklahoma can engineer a similar shutdown, the odds will fall in the favor of the Sooners.
That is, unless the Bulldogs shoot themselves in the foot with penalties. In Georgia’s Nov. 11 loss to Auburn, Georgia committed seven penalties for 91 yards. Oklahoma is a tough-enough opponent without the Bulldogs handing the football gift-wrapped to Mayfield and killing their own drives. It’ll take a clean game to avert a Sooner victory.
Perfection? Not possible.
Close to it? Required, or Oklahoma will take home its first national title in nearly 20 years.
Prediction: Georgia 28, Oklahoma 21
Alaa Abdeldaiem: Why Oklahoma will win
Baker Mayfield expects to play.
While Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback has battled illness all week, he and head coach Lincoln Riley have assured questioners that Mayfield will be available, forcing us to ask ourselves the question:
Even if Mayfield isn’t at 100 percent, is there anyone out there that can stop him?
Mayfield has been one of if not the most polarizing players in the country all year. He has 41 passing touchdowns and five interceptions this season and leads the country with his 203.8 pass efficiency rating.
He’s confident. He’s hungry. And he isn’t alone.
Much of this team was present when Oklahoma lost 37-17 in the College Football Playoff semifinal to Clemson in the 2015 Orange Bowl. That includes the Sooners’ defense, which was been viewed all season as inconsistent at best.
But this is a mostly-veteran group capable of well-timed disruption. Sooners edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo ranks fourth overall by Pro Football Focus and linebacker Caleb Kelly has become one of the team’s most dependable leaders. They may end up giving up yards, but this Oklahoma defense has been waiting for a shot at redemption.
The Sooners know this is their chance.
Alaa Abdeldaiem: Why Oklahoma will lose
If defense wins championships, it’s hard to argue against Georgia’s chances.
The Bulldogs’ defense is ranked No. 3 nationally in average points per game (13.2) and has allowed its opponents an average of just 270.9 yards per game, fourth in the nation.
Even with Rodney Anderson’s recent hot-streak––the Oklahoma running back has averaged 121.9 yards in the last six games––the Sooners might have a hard time getting the running game going.
Georgia has given up just six rushing touchdowns to opponents all year and are ranked No. 11 in average rushing yards allowed per game with 112.6. Without the ground game, Oklahoma risks letting Butkus Award-winning linebacker Roquan Smith (113 tackles, 10.5 for tackles for loss) get the best of Baker Mayfield.
And if there’s any single recipe for disaster, that might be it.
Prediction: Oklahoma 31, Georgia 28