Ohio State motivated by underdog role in Peach Bowl matchup vs. Georgia

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ATLANTA – At first glance, Ohio State appears to be in an unfamiliar place.

How could the Buckeyes, one of the most recognizable brands in college sports, be labeled the underdogs heading into a big game? It’s a fact that has prompted a fair amount of double-takes and fact-checking, but it’s the situation the program finds itself in as it prepares to face No. 1 Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl on Saturday at night.

Why the Peach Bowl is a tough matchup for both teams

Why the Peach Bowl is a tough matchup for both teams

The Bulldogs are 6-point favorites, the first time Ohio State has been the dark horse since a 52-24 loss to Alabama in the national championship game two seasons ago. The Buckeyes were a 9-point underdog at the time, but have been favored in all 25 games since.

Saturday’s broadcast makes sense. After all, Georgia is the defending national champion. The Bulldogs went a perfect 13-0 this season, including winning the SEC title. Additionally, the game will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, just 70 miles from the UGA campus. And Ohio State is coming off a second straight demoralizing loss to Michigan.

Still, the Buckeyes are playing in their fifth CFP semifinal, have reached the title game twice and won it all in 2014.

However, Ohio State players don’t care much about that story. They don’t mind being discounted against the big, bad Bulldogs.

“I feel like we’re still Ohio State. We’re still the Buckeyes. Georgia is Georgia for a reason,” quarterback CJ Stroud said this week. “I don’t mean I feel like the underdog. I feel like we’re being counted out. It’s OK. We’ve been counted out a lot of times.”

Stroud is right. Upon further review, Ohio State has actually been an underdog at this particular point in a season more times than you might think.

Of the four previous semifinal matchups it has played, OSU has been an underdog three times, winning twice. After the 2014 season, which featured the first four-team playoff, the Buckeyes were a 9.5-point underdog against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and won 42-35. Even after Ezekiel Elliott ran for 230 yards and two touchdowns, Ohio State found itself a 6.5-point underdog in the national championship game against Oregon. The Buckeyes won 42-20.

Can the Buckeyes pull off the upset?

Can the Buckeyes pull off the upset?

The following years went like this:

  • 2016-17 Fiesta Bowl vs. Clemson: Ohio State was a 1-point favorite and lost 31-0
  • 2019-20 Fiesta Bowl vs. Clemson: Ohio State was a 2.5-point underdog and lost 29-23
  • 2020-21 Sugar Bowl vs Clemson: Ohio State was a 7-point underdog and won 49-28; then the Buckeyes were a 9-point underdog in the title game against Alabama and lost 52-24.
  • 2021-22 Peach Bowl vs. Georgia: Ohio State is a 6-point underdog and ???

“There’s never been a time when I’ve stepped on the field where I’ve felt a huge disadvantage to a player in front of me,” Ohio State wide receiver Emeka Egbuka said. “I haven’t played Georgia yet, but I think with the confidence we have as a team and our ability, they’ve counted us out before. So it’s nothing new for us.”

Coach Ryan Day said at media day this week that there has been “friction” among his defensive players during practice. Not in a negative way, but rather in a motivated way, that something needs to be proven. Of course, that comes from being bullied by Michigan two years in a row and questioning their toughness as a result.

Ohio State was also the bookies’ favorite in both games, at 6.5 points in 2021 and 9 points in 2022.

“Well, they should be, and we all should be,” Day said of his “angry” defense heading into Saturday. “We know what we have to do in this game to win, and that’s how it’s been this month for a lot of us in training every day. There’s been an edge. There’s been friction. There’s been conflict. There’s been a advantage There’s a lot going on, and that’s a healthy thing.

“And so the only good thing about this is we’re going to play. We’re not going to sit there and worry about what ifs or anything like that. Nobody’s really giving us a chance to win this game anyway . We’re going to drop everything. We’re going to play as hard as we can and look up after four quarters and see where we’re at.”

It’s a little curious to think of a Goliath program like Ohio State embracing and relishing its role as long-term David, though some pundits think that if there’s going to be an upset in either semifinal, the Buckeyes have better chance than TCU. against Michigan.

This is a team looking for redemption. Lingering concerns about Michigan and questions about whether the program itself is at some sort of crossroads need to be put to rest. The only way to do that is to beat Georgia and win the national championship, which could end up being another battle against the Wolverines.

Adding an underdog narrative only motivates them even more.

“I think we have a chance to do something really special here, and more than anything, I just want them to go out there and play as hard and as fast as they can,” Day said. “That’s what life is all about.” it’s about going through obstacles and being strong and not getting sidetracked from tackling problems head-on, dealing with the conflict and then getting better from it. And we had an incredible opportunity Saturday night.”

Added wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.: “I always thought it was Ohio against the world, even before this game. So nothing really changes.

“Personally, I’m happy to be able to play them in Atlanta, in their type of stadium. [I] always like being the bad guy and the underdog coming into the game.”

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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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