Rose Bowl: Can the Georgia defense contain Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma?

Dr. Saturday

Rose Bowl Game (College Football Playoff semifinal)
No. 3 Georgia (12-1) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1)
Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, Pasadena, Calif. (ESPN)
Georgia -2.5, O/U: 60.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Georgia: After going 8-5 in his first season, Kirby Smart led Georgia back to the elite of college football in his second season. And now there’s a trip to the College Football Playoff title game on the line. The Bulldogs lost starting quarterback Jacob Eason in Week 1 but still got off to a 9-0 start with freshman Jake Fromm running the offense. Fromm, a five-star in-state recruit, has gotten better and better as the year progressed, but the Bulldogs have been carried by a stalwart defense for much of the year.

A week after clinching the SEC East title, UGA had its lone slip-up, a 40-17 loss at Auburn, on Nov. 11. The Bulldogs rebounded from that loss about as well as possible, disposing of Kentucky and Georgia Tech before a rematch with Auburn in the SEC title game. It was a different story this time. Auburn jumped out to an early 7-0 lead but never scored again in a dominant 28-7 victory for Georgia. That win — the program’s first SEC title since 2005 — sent UGA to the College Football Playoff semifinals.

Oklahoma: While Georgia has been more regarded for its defense, Oklahoma has been offense all the way. The Sooners, in Lincoln Riley’s first season as head coach, enter the CFP semifinals averaging 44.9 points (No. 4 FBS) points per game. The Sooners had arguably their best win of the season in Week 2, besting then-No. 2 Ohio State 31-16 in Columbus. Two more wins followed before OU’s lone loss of the season, a shocking 38-31 defeat at the hands of Iowa State.

A few more close wins over Texas and Kansas State followed before Oklahoma entered the thick of its Big 12 slate. Behind 598 yards and five touchdowns from Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Sooners knocked off rival Oklahoma State 62-52 in Stillwater. Next was a 38-20 victory over No. 6 TCU to improve the Sooners’ record to 9-1, but it wasn’t until a rematch with the Horned Frogs in the Big 12 title game — a 41-17 trouncing a month later — that the Sooners locked up their place in the CFP semis.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: The Heisman winner led his team to another Big 12 title and did so with a historic season. The senior enters the CFP semifinals with 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns — both second-most in the nation — with only five interceptions. On top of that, Mayfield leads the country by completing a ridiculous 71 percent of his passes. His quarterback rating, 203.8, also leads the country by a significant margin. Mayfield also has 310 yards and five touchdowns rushing, but he may not be at 100 percent against Georgia. Mayfield has been practicing, but missed several media sessions with what has been described as flu-like symptoms.

Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, RB, Georgia: It feels right to pair these two together. They have been one of the most prolific running back duos in NCAA history. According to ESPN, Chubb and Michel’s combined 7,958 yards — 4,599 from Chubb and 3,359 from Michel — are the second-most in FBS history for a RB duo. This year, Chubb is leading the way with 1,175 yards on 191 carries, but Michel isn’t far behind with 948 yards on 131 attempts. The two are tied with 13 touchdowns apiece while Michel is averaging 7.2 yards per carry — a yard more than Chubb’s 6.2. But there’s a third running back Oklahoma needs to be aware of, too. Freshman D’Andre Swift has had a big role on the offense this year, rushing for 597 yards and three touchdowns while contributing 15 catches for 146 yards and a score in the passing game.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

This game has an SEC power and a Big 12 power going head-to-head in the Rose Bowl for a berth in the national championship. Why wouldn’t you want to watch? It’s the ultimate battle of offense vs. defense. With a Heisman winner at quarterback, Oklahoma has the best offense in the country, averaging 583.3 yards per game. Mayfield has an array of talent to spread the ball to with receivers Marquise Brown (49 catches, 981 yards, 6 TDs) and CeeDee Lamb (40 catches, 741 yards, 7 TDs) and tight end Mark Andrews (58 catches, 906 yards, 8 TDs) leading the way. Though the passing attack gets more of the acclaim, the Sooners have three backs — Rodney Anderson, Trey Sermon and Abdul Adams — with more than 500 yards rushing.

On the other side, Georgia ranks fourth in the country by giving up an average of just 270.9 yards per game and 13.2 points per game with linebacker Roquan Smith leading the way. Smith, a junior who finished 10th in the Heisman voting, was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year — and deservedly so. Entering the Rose Bowl, he leads the team with 113 tackles along with 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. But the talent goes beyond just Smith. The defensive backfield of Deandre Baker and J.R. Reed highlight one of the best, if not the best, unit Mayfield will face all year.

The Rose Bowl will be the perfect setting for all of that talent.

In this Dec. 2, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield holds his Most Outstanding Player trophy as he celebrates with the team after their 41-17 win in the the Big 12 title game over TCU. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)
In this Dec. 2, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield holds his Most Outstanding Player trophy as he celebrates with the team after their 41-17 win in the the Big 12 title game over TCU. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

PREDICTIONS:

Nick: Oklahoma 34, Georgia 27
Sam: Oklahoma 31, Georgia 30

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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