Photo courtesy of Cincinnati athletics
This year’s Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl pits (get it?) Cincinnati against Georgia.
This will be the fourth straight season and fifth time in six years that the American Athletic Conference is represented in the New Year’s Six. This is the perfect opportunity for the AAC and Group of 5 in general to prove that it can compete with the top teams.
Georgia had high hopes coming into the season. In fact, the only teams with better preseason odds to win the championship were Clemson and Alabama. After the big loss to Florida, Georgia was written off by many.
Despite this, Cincinnati still received a tough draw with Georgia. The Bulldogs have looked great since the Florida loss. Not only have they looked better, but this is basically a home game for Georgia. It’s not exactly a trek for Georgia and its fans to travel the hour from Athens to Atlanta.
If Cincinnati were to play against the pre-November Bulldogs, Cincinnati would likely be favorites. The Georgia offense under quarterback Stetson Bennett was mediocre and often ineffective. Cincinnati has a stout defense that would’ve taken advantage of Bennett’s inability to move the ball down the field. The new offense under JT Daniels is more dynamic and will be a bigger challenge for Cincinnati.
The contest begins at 12 p.m. ET on Friday and airs on ESPN.
Which match-up will determine the game?
In a game dominated by defenses — Cincinnati and Georgia’s defenses were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively by Pro Football Focus — the match-up to watch is Daniels vs. the Cincinnati secondary. Specifically, the aspect of the game everyone should be watching is Daniels’ downfield passing.
Daniels is the only quarterback to be in the top 10 for adjusted completion percentage and deep pass percent. Deep pass percent is what percentage of his throws are targets 20-plus yards down the field, and over a quarter of Daniels’ pass attempts qualify. In summary, head coach Kirby Smart trusts Daniels to throw it downfield, and Daniels does it well.
Cincinnati, on the other hand, has the second highest rated secondary, per PFF. In terms of NFL passer rating allowed, two of the six best corners are Bearcats. Their secondary is a no-fly zone, so this match-up will be the proverbial unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.
Who are the “guys” for Cincinnati?
In terms of guys on the Bearcat defense to watch, Ahmad Gardner is their best cornerback. In 624 coverage snaps, he’s yet to give up a touchdown and has six interceptions to boot. Additionally, PFF tweeted that the passer rating where a quarterback spikes it every time is 39.6. Gardner’s passer rating allowed is 29.3. That means, a quarterback would have a better passer rating throwing it into the ground than targeting Gardner’s assignment.
Cincinnati also has a few other names in the secondary to watch. Arquon Bush is a solid slot corner who will be assigned to Georgia’s top rated wide receiver, Kearis Jackson. Coby Bryant lines up opposite of Gardner, and has the highest PFF coverage grade of the secondary.
Bryant has allowed 8.6 yards per attempt and 14.8 yards per reception this season. That’s in comparison to Gardner allowing 5.5 yards per attempt and Bush allowing 4.2 yards per attempt. A player with a high PFF grade but a high yards per attempt is emblematic of someone with success on most plays. However, that player does leave the offense with rare, but large opportunities.
These opportunities are where Georgia needs to strike. There is hope for Georgia against Cincinnati’s secondary, as long as it is tactical with when it takes shots. Ultimately, Georgia’s ability to pick its spots downfield against Cincinnati’s elite secondary will decide the game.