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ATLANTA – Merriam-Webster defines “finesse” as a “skillful handling of a situation, adroit maneuvering.”
It’s not a four-letter word. It doesn’t mean weak, which is a somewhat inaccurate connotation of the word.
No. 4 Ohio State (11-1), which plays No. 1 Georgia (13-0) tonight in a College Football Playoff semifinal (8 p.m., ESPN) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, garnered the finesse tag after losses to Michigan the last two seasons in which it was pushed around pretty good.
After Michigan’s 42-27 win over Ohio State in 2021 that ended Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s 0-5 dryspell against his rival, then-Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis called the Buckeyes a “finesse team.” He used the weak definition in more ways than one.
“I really don’t give a sh*t what anyone outside this program says about our toughness,” Ohio State tight end Cade Stover said before this year’s Michigan game. Then Ohio State lost, 45-23.
Michigan bullied Ohio State with 297 rushing yards to 64 in the 2021 win and did much the same in the win on Nov. 26 with 252 rushing yards to 143.
Georgia is not known as a finesse team. It is an SEC bully known for its physicality, but can maneuver adroitly when need be. And the Bulldogs are a touchdown favorite to beat Ohio State and advance to the national championship game on Jan. 9. That will be against the winner of today’s first CFP semifinal (4 p.m., ESPN) between No. 2 Michigan (13-0) and No. 3 TCU (12-1) in Glendale, Arizona.
Ohio State Will Face Nation’s No. 1 Team Against The Run
Georgia plays much like Michigan. It has a great front seven with defensive tackle Jalen Carter (6-foot-3, 310 pounds). The Bulldogs are No. 1 in the nation against the run with 77 yards allowed a game. Ohio State is just 28th nationally in rushing and does not have a tailback that scares you.
The Bulldogs are No. 2 in scoring defense with 12.8 points allowed a game. Ohio State is No. 2 in scoring with 44.5 points a game.
Power vs. Finesse.
Ohio State will win tonight because it is a finesse team … by the strictest definition of that term.
The Buckeyes will have the best quarterback and wide receivers on the field with C.J. Stroud and targets Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. Stroud is No. 1 in America in efficiency at 176.2 (235-of-355 passing, 3,340 yards, 37 TDs, 6 INTs). He is No. 17 in passing yards a game (278). Harrison and Egbuka are each 1,000-yard receivers.
Buckeyes Could Take Advantage Of Georgia’s Secondary
Georgia does not always “skillfully handle situations” in the secondary as it is a very average No. 49 in the nation in pass defense with 215 yards allowed a game. The Bulldogs are worse at rushing the passer as far as sacks – 78th nationally with 26. And sacks are more finesse than power. You have to get to the quarterback first.
The key will be if Ohio State, which is No. 28 in the nation in rushing (198.5 yards a game), can rush the ball just adequately enough to keep Georgia honest. That will let Stroud and company go with finesse zest, if you will.
Ohio State’s finesse game will have another major advantage tonight. The game is indoors. Big Ten weather and wind can be difficult to navigate at times and enhanced Michigan’s defense against the Buckeyes last month. Stroud still completed 31 of 48 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns, but he threw two interceptions.
“Yeah, it’s a good feeling knowing that you don’t have to deal with weather coming from the Big Ten and playing in the Midwest,” Stroud said. “In the end, it’s definitely a good thing to be playing in a really nice stadium inside.”
Georgia Had A Weaker Schedule Than Ohio State
Funny thing about this “finesse” argument against Ohio State is the fact that Georgia had more of a finesse schedule, using the weak connotation of the word. Ohio State’s was No. 4 in the nation to Georgia’s No. 5, but let’s take a closer look.
One of Georgia’s best wins on paper was 49-3 over Oregon, which finished 10-3 and was No. 15 in the latest CFP ranking. But that was on Sept. 3. A more impressive win would be its 27-13 victory on Nov. 5 over Tennessee, which finished 11-2 with a nice, 31-14 win Friday over No. 7 Clemson. Tennessee was No. 6 in the CFP. But Tennessee has an inexplicable, 63-38 loss on Nov. 19 to an average former No. 19 South Carolina (8-5), which will fall from the CFP rankings.
Georgia also has a solid, 45-19 win on Nov. 12 over No. 22 Mississippi State (8-4). But it looked bad in a 16-6 win on Nov. 19 over Kentucky, which was 7-5 going into the Music City Bowl against Iowa Saturday. Oh, and Georgia barely won 26-22 on Oct. 1 at a bad Misouri, which finished 6-7.
The Bulldogs have not played a team as good as Michigan. Yes, Ohio State lost by 22 to Michigan, but was within a score midway through the fourth quarter. Ohio State’s best win is better than Georgia’s best win. That was over Penn State, 44-31, on Oct. 29. The Nittany Lions are No. 11 in the CFP poll going into the Rose Bowl against Utah on Monday with their only other loss to Michigan. And Ohio State has a 21-10 win on Sept. 3 over Notre Dame, which is No. 21 in the CFP and finished 9-4.
Here is the most important statistical information that points to Ohio State’s schedule being more difficult than Georgia’s. The Buckeyes have played much better defenses than the Bulldogs. Of the top 22 teams in total defense, Ohio State has played five. Those were No. 3 Michigan, No. 4 Iowa, No. 11 Wisconsin, No. 14 Penn State and No. 22 Notre Dame. Georgia has played one – No. 15 Kentucky, and struggled mightily with the Wildcats.
Ohio State, on the other hand, blew away the defenses of Iowa, 54-10, Wisconsin, 52-21, and Penn State, 44-31. Ohio State at No. 12 in total defense will be the best defense Georgia has seen.
Ohio State Is A More Hardened Team
By playing Michigan, even though it was an ugly loss, along with the nation’s best defenses routinely before that, Ohio State is more hardened than Georgia. The Bulldogs haven’t been tested since Missouri.
We really don’t know how good Georgia is. They may have gotten a little fat and content over the holidays, where as Ohio State has been stewing desperately and angrily since losing to Michigan.
“Ryan Day is on the hot seat,” an Ohio State fan told me Friday night of the Buckeyes’ coach who is 45-5 and 31-2 in the Big Ten. Tough crowd. Not a finesse fan base by any means.
That toughens a team. Georgia should know. Smart was sort of on the hot seat at this time last year as he had just lost to Alabama for a fourth straight time, 41-24, in the SEC championship game.
That loss was alarmingly similar to Day’s 45-23 loss to Michigan last month. I see Day bouncing back tonight as Smart did in the national championship game last season with a 33-18 win over Alabama. The battle-tested Buckeyes will beat the softening Bulldogs.
Finesse Final: Ohio State 31, Georgia 27.