CSJ 2020 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Preview: Georgia vs. Cincinnati
December 31, 2020
Georgia vs. Cincinnati When: Friday, January 1st, 12:00 PM EST Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga. TV/Streaming: ESPN, WatchESPN
Cincinnati gets its chance to show the Football Playoff Committee that they were ranked too low this season. The undefeated Bearcats will play Georgia in their home state in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day similar to how another undefeated American Athletic Association team in UCF did three years ago in this same bowl when the Knights defeated another SEC team in Auburn to finish that season as the only undefefeated team in all of FBS.
This is the fourth straight appearance in a College Football Playoff-affiliated bowl for Georgia under Coach Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs beat Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl before losing in the national title game to Alabama back in 2017, lost to Texas in the Sugar Bowl in 2018 and then had a pretty dominant showing over Baylor in the Sugar Bowl last fall. This is UGA’s fifth Peach Bowl appearance. The program has a 2-2 record, with its last trip resulting in a 35-33 win over Virginia in 1998.
This will be Georgia’s sixth appearance in the Peach Bowl, but its first since 2006 when the Bulldogs defeated Virginia Tech 31-24. This year’s matchup also represents only the second AAC vs. SEC matchup in the Bowl’s 53-year history, following the aforementioned UCF upset over Auburn in 2018.
While many Group of Five schools have never been to a New Year’s Day bowl game when they get the G5 top spot award for one of the six New Year’s Day bowl games, Cincinnati is not new to such a high profile bowl game.
Cincinnati is in the midst of arguably its best season ever. The Bearcats have seven seasons all-time with double-digit wins, but none of them finished undefeated. Back in 2009, Brian Kelly’s Bearcats went through the season 12-0 but were left out of the BCS title game. Kelly then left for Notre Dame and a Cincinnati team with an interim coach got blasted by Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The year before that was the first NY6 bowl appearance, a 20-7 loss to Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Cincinnati was a member of the Big East Conference at that time and it had a direct tie-in to one of that time of the Bowl Championship Series bowl games.
Coach Luke Fickell has gotten his team back to that level slowly in finishing with two 11-win seasons in 2018 and 2019–including two bowl wins over Power Five schools (Virginia Tech in 2018 in the Military Bowl and Boston College in the Birmingham Bowl last year).
Each season, the Bearcats moved up the notch in the AAC standings. Two years ago, Cincinnati was edged out of the AAC title game by UCF but last year overcame UCF to reach the title game but lost to Memphis. This year, the Bearcats again made the AAC title game and defeated Tulsa to stay unblemished.
Georgia this season got off to a solid 3-0 start while playing an entire SEC only schedule in this season with COVID-19. But the Bulldogs then lost two of their next three to Alabama and Florida by large margins. The loss to Florida gave UF the SEC East title, breaking a streak of three straight division crowns for the Bulldogs. Georgia rebounded though to win its last three contests.
This match-up between Cincinnati and Georgia is the third overall meeting but New Year’s Day will mark the first meeting in over 44 years. Georgia holds a 2-0 edge in the series, winning a 35-13 decision in Cincinnati on Oct. 24, 1942 and a 31-17 matchup in Athens on Oct. 30, 1976.
This year’s match-up should bring in two strong defenses and enough power on offense to make this game very close from a statistical area. See below for both a broad comparison and a more in depth statistical comparison:
This is the fourth straight appearance in a College Football Playoff-affiliated bowl for Georgia under Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs beat Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl before losing in the national title game to Alabama back in 2017, lost to Texas in the Sugar Bowl in 2018 and then had a pretty dominant showing over Baylor in the Sugar Bowl last fall.
This year, Georgia endured some quarterback issues in Week 1 against Arkansas, benching D’Wan Mathis in favor of Stetson Bennett. Bennett would lead UGA to a 3-0 start. But then Bennett struggled in the two losses and led to Pac-12 USC transfer JT Daniels being named the starting quarterback. Daniels led the Bulldogs to a 3-0 finish and will be the starter in this game.
Redshirt sophomore Kearis Jackson (33 rec., 467 yds., 3 TDs) has emerged as a top receiving target, while fellow sophomore George Pickens ranks second on the squad with 29 catches for 378 yards and five scores.
Georgia also has a powerful running game led by RB Zamir White with 133 carries for 740 yards (both team highs) and 10 touchdowns.
Georgia comes into the bowl season with the nation’s No. 14 defense in yards allowed per game. While several members of the Georgia defense have decided not to play in this game, its top pass rusher will be on the field in LB Azeez Ojulari will be the leader on defense. He leads the Bulldogs with 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in 2020. He also totaled 27 tackles and two forced fumbles over the span of nine games.
Key Player: QB JT Daniels
Since becoming the starter, the redshirt sophomore led offense averaged 41.7 points a game and 498.3 yards of total offense in this three game stretch. The wins have been over Mississippi State, South Carolina and Missouri. While these numbers are impressive, Cincinnati likely will be the best defense he has faced in a Bulldog uniform. He will also have to overcome his team being he favorite and not be complacent with his throws and play calls.
Cincinnati is in the midst of arguably its best season ever. The Bearcats have seven seasons all-time with double-digit wins, but none of them finished undefeated. The closest was the year that Brian Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame in 2009 when the Bearcats finished 12-0 but were blown out by an SEC team in Florida without Kelly on the sideline.
This year, the defense has been dominating like it has been the last two seasons with the play of All-Americans CB Ahmad Gardner and S James Wiggins that ranked in the NCAA’s Top-15 in five categories, including No. 2 in both interceptions (15) and team pass efficiency defense and has forced a turnover in 19-straight games, the longest active FBS streak.
But the biggest reason to push towards an undefeated season was the offensive play especially that of QB Desmond Ridder.
Ridder has thrown for 2,090 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 66.4% percent of his passes this season. He has also rushed for 609 yards and 12 scores while averaging 7.3 yards per attempt. He took major strides from 2019, when he completed just over 55% of his throws.
Besides Ridder, the running game also is strong with RBs Gerrid Doaks (673 yards, 7 TDs) and Jerome Ford (405 yards, 7 TDs) in the run-first type of Bearcat offense.
Key Player: QB Desmond Ridder
Ridder has only gone turnover-free in three of Cincinnati’s nine games this year. I believe Ridder and the Bearcats will need to take care of the ball for them to win this against a powerful Georgia team bascially in their own backyard in Atlanta. He will also need to mix the run and pass to keep the depleted Georgia defense guessing.
From a talent point of view, Georgia has more but talent alone does not win games. Cincinnati is a very experienced team and will be motivated to show the College Football Playoff committee they made a mistake with their #7 to #8 rankings this year (including being ranked in the final polls behind multiple loss teams in Florida and Oklahoma. That motivation will show on the field in a very close game and the Bearcats (like UCF three years ago) will finish the season undefeated. Cincinnati 31 Georgia 28
Originally from LaMoure, North Dakota, Kent is a 1996 graduate of North Dakota State University. His prior writing experience is over 15 years having previously worked with D2football.com, I-AA.org, and College Sporting News before coming to College Sports Journal in 2016. His main focus is college football in the western half of the United States– the Big Sky Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference within the Division I FCS. And in 2017, he began also to look at the FBS Group of Five conferences of the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt.
Originally from LaMoure, North Dakota, Kent is a 1996 graduate of North Dakota State University. His prior writing experience is over 15 years having previously worked with D2football.com, I-AA.org, and College Sporting News before coming to College Sports Journal in 2016. His main focus is college football in the western half of the United States-- the Big Sky Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference within the Division I FCS. And in 2017, he began also to look at the FBS Group of Five conferences of the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt.