The Georgia Bulldogs are back in the Sugar Bowl again. We’ll see if it goes better against a team from Texas this time around. The post-SEC Championship Game hangover loomed large in last year’s meeting against the Texas Longhorns and Georgia came up on the short end as a big favorite. This year, Georgia is again a favorite, but money is pouring in on the Baylor Bears, who sure seem to be a lot more invested in the game.
Georgia is still favored by 6 or 6.5 out there in the market, but this line opened 7.5 or 8, so the underdog from the Big 12 is taking the majority of the early money.
Charlie Brewer left Baylor’s Big 12 Championship Game loss to Oklahoma with a concussion, but is expected to be good to go in this one. While the Big 12 Championship Game may have been a winner-take-all game for the final spot in the College Football Playoff, the Bears have a tremendous head coach in Matt Rhule that will keep trying to take the program to new heights as long as he doesn’t take an NFL gig. Georgia is already an established program and one of the nation’s best. It doesn’t seem like Baylor will have a Georgia-esque hangover in this one.
One of the primary driving forces behind this line move is that Georgia will be down three starting linemen on the offensive side. Ben Cleveland was ruled academically ineligible for the bowl game. Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson have expressed a desire to prepare for the NFL Draft and they will be leaving early. Baylor, already a stout team in the trenches, has gotten a nice upgrade with those three losses for the Bulldogs. While Georgia recruits at an incredibly high level across all positions, this is now a huge spot for the underclassmen and backups taking those spots.
To this point, Georgia running back D’Andre Swift hasn’t announced anything about his status for the bowl game, but he was hurt in the SEC Championship Game against LSU and may opt not to run behind a patchwork offensive line when all is said and done. Nobody for Baylor is skipping the game for the prospects of the NFL.
The suspension and the declarations hurt an already pedestrian Georgia offense. Sure, Georgia was 44th in yards per play with 6.13, but the Bulldogs played a weak schedule by SEC standards up until they ran into LSU in the title game and it went poorly. Georgia had 4.2 yards per play in that game. Against conference foes, the Bulldogs had just 5.39 yards per play. They had 7.85 YPP in games against non-conference opponents. In four games against ranked opponents, the UGA offense managed just 4.94 yards per play.
The Bulldogs had 8.04 yards per play in their first four games, but went downhill quickly from there. There was nobody to stretch the field vertical in the passing game and a lot of throws from Jake Fromm were slants or crosses and were high-percentage plays. He completed just 60.3% of his attempts with a 22/5 TD/INT ratio. Fromm was only sacked 12 times. Baylor tied for seventh nationally with 43 sacks and now gets to rush the passer with a watered-down offensive line.
D’Andre Swift was the saving grace of the Bulldogs offense with 6.2 yards per pop on his 195 carries. For now, Swift says he will decide if he wants to leave early after the bowl game, but things can change before January 1. The Bulldogs are already missing wide receiver Lawrence Cager, so another loss at a skill position would be even more damning.
Fortunately for Georgia backers and fans, you are betting on an outstanding defense. Even with a lot of success for LSU in the SECCG, Georgia finished the regular season third in yards per play allowed with 4.34. Again, though, much like the splits on offense, Georgia allowed 5.16 YPP in games against ranked opponents and 3.93 against unranked teams. Georgia really padded numbers against the weaklings on the schedule. LSU had 6.5 yards per play in the SEC Championship Game.
But Baylor’s offense isn’t LSU’s. Almost no offenses are. Baylor was really good with 6.44 yards per play, but the Big 12 also isn’t exactly known for defense. Baylor had 7.5 yards per play against non-conference foes and 6.13 in 10 conference games. Baylor’s offensive performance against Oklahoma in the rematch has to be taken with a grain of salt because of the QB injuries. Gerry Bohanon and Jacob Zeno did what they could and nearly willed Baylor to victory.
The layoff for Brewer should be good, not only to come back from the concussion, but also to fix the other ailments he was dealing with throughout the season. John Lovett and JaMycal Hasty averaged 6.4 and 6.1 yards per play, respectively, to lead a Baylor ground game that had 4.8 yards per carry. Denzel Mims had 61 grabs, 11 for touchdowns, for 945 yards.
Like Georgia, though, Baylor is known more for its defense. The offense has been good, but the quality of defensive competition has had an impact in that department. Baylor finished up 20th in yards per play allowed with 4.85. The Bears did allow a full yard per play more in conference action, but 5.05 yards per play allowed in the Big 12 is pretty good.
To me, this is a challenging handicap. Georgia’s motivation as a team may not have been there, but you do have some individual motivations now, in particular with the younger guys getting a look on the offensive line. After last year’s loss, Georgia could be more focused. Baylor is a great team and Rhule is a tremendous coach, but the Bears are operating at a talent deficiency here because Georgia has had a strong recruiting base for a very long time and Baylor just started to build theirs back up under Rhule.
I’d go against the grain of the line move here and take Georgia under a touchdown. The best number out there is -6 and I’d look in that direction. Before all the OL news for Georgia, my line here was UGA -9. I think the OL things could be a touch overblown given how well Georgia recruits. It is a cluster at the same position, but Georgia has better athletes.
Pick: Georgia -6