COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State didn’t get to control its playoff destiny after losing to rival Michigan at the end of the regular season.
The Buckeyes are in the postseason, and they’re yearning for redemption.
Coach Ryan Day said the No. 4 Buckeyes had productive practices last week and realize the opportunity they have in front of them with a semifinal showdown against top-ranked Georgia.
“I think the guys have really had good urgency about them,” Day said Tuesday. “We’re going to start making the transition into game planning here soon and then we get down to bowl week, so we have three phases when we talk about bowl practice, but the energy has been really, really good.”
The Buckeyes took the back door into the College Football Playoff, benefiting from USC’s second loss this year to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game.
Defending champion Georgia will host Ohio State on New Year’s Eve in its own backyard. The Bulldogs bring the No. 2 scoring defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision into the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. They have held teams to fewer than 13 points per game.
Defensive tackle Jalen Carter is a big reason why. The 2022 AP All-America First Team selection leads Georgia’s top-ranked rushing defense that has held opponents to 77 yards per game.
“One of the best football players in the country, and you can see it,” Day said. “He’s very, very productive, so it’ll be a big challenge for our guys up front and we’ll have to know exactly where he is.”
Aside from second-team All-America tackles Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones, Day said Ohio State’s combination of guard and center along the offensive line will be the key to opening up running lanes and protecting quarterback C.J. Stroud.
“That’ll be a big part of the game for sure is winning the game up front like it always is, but certainly on the interior it’s going to be even more amplified,” Day said.
The Buckeyes won’t have standout running back TreVeyon Henderson, who will miss the playoff with a foot injury and tweeted his regret that he won’t be able to finish out the season.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett attended the Heisman Trophy ceremony Saturday as a finalist alongside Stroud.
Bennett has a range of weapons at his disposal within Georgia’s offense including tight ends Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington, who’ve combined for over 1,100 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
Getting after Bennett is the top priority for Ohio State’s defense, Day said.
“It’s the quarterback that makes it all go, and he’s played unbelievable,” he said. “What an unbelievable story of somebody that came through a lot of adversity along the way in his journey to get to where he’s at. So from afar it’s been a joy to watch him compete.”
The Buckeyes will play in the Peach Bowl for the first time when they step onto the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the site of the yearly SEC Championship game.
“It’s going to be an electric atmosphere, and we’ll be ready for anything,” Day said. “I know Ohio State is going to travel very, very well, but we’ll also be ready for a loud environment and just make sure we have all tools ready if we need them.”
The Buckeyes know what could possibly await them if they get past Georgia and into the national championship game — a potential rematch with the No. 2 Wolverines, who have beat their rival two years in a row.
“You don’t want to get ahead of yourself, but that would be unbelievable,” Day said on Dec. 4. “It would be historic to have that opportunity, and to say that we haven’t thought about that, of course we have.”