Hickey: Can Ohio State find a way to corral Georgia tight end Brock Bowers?
Numerous challenges await No. 4 Ohio State in its Peach Bowl pairing with No. 1 Georgia.
Most notably, of course, is that the game is in Atlanta. It figures to be a virtual home game for the Bulldogs.
But maybe it won’t be as lopsided in that regard as some people assume. Presumptuous Georgia fans could be saving up for a national championship game trip. And Buckeyes fans have a habit of showing up regardless of circumstances.
Georgia’s talent is a much bigger factor than the noise will be. That talent begins with the best player Ohio State has faced this season — and it’s not the quarterback who was a Heisman finalist.
Brock Bowers is the best tight end in college football, and an argument can be made that he’s the best all-around football player. In addition to winning the Mackey Award for top tight end, Bowers was a finalist for the Lombardi Award (top lineman) and semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award (top pass-catcher).
But a daunting task is not an impossible task. Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Georgia Tech each kept Bowers under 20 receiving yards this season.
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On top of that, Jim Knowles’ defense has been exceptional defending opposing tight ends all season. Tight ends have scored just 3 touchdowns against Ohio State.
Tight ends vs. Ohio State in 2022
- Michael Mayer, Notre Dame: 5 receptions, 32 yards, 0 TDs
- Seydou Traore, Arkansas State: 2 receptions, 17 yards, 0 TDs
- Jamal Turner, Toledo: 0 receptions, 0 yards, 0 TDs
- Jack Eshenbach, Wisconsin: 1 reception, 10 yards, 0 TDs
- Johnny Langan, Rutgers: 3 receptions, 23 yards, 0 TDs
- Daniel Barker, Michigan State: 0 receptions, 0 yards, 0 TDs
- Sam LaPorta, Iowa: 6 receptions, 55 yards, 0 TDs
- Brenton Strange, Penn State: 4 receptions, 13 yards, 0 TDs
- Theo Johnson, Penn State: 2 receptions, 57 yards, 0 TDs
- Marshall Lang, Northwestern: 0 receptions, 0 yards, 0 TDs
- AJ Barner, Indiana: 4 receptions, 8 yards, 1 TD
- Corey Dyches, Maryland: 1 reception, 4 yards, 0 TDs
- CJ Dippre, Maryland: 4 receptions, 30 yards, 1 TD
- Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan: 1 reception, 15 yards, 0 TDs
- Colston Loveland, Michigan: 1 reception, 45 yards, 1 TD
Those are numbers. Here’s some context.
Ohio State has the unique distinction of being the only defense in the country to face all 3 Mackey finalists this season. And it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes or even Inspector Clouseau to deduce who those guys are.
If a tight end catches 5 passes against the Buckeyes, he becomes a Mackey finalist. Or at least those are the rules this season. Notre Dame’s Mayer and Iowa’s LaPorta finished as runners up to Bowers.
Somewhat surprisingly, Cal was the only team to hold Mayer to fewer yards per catch than Ohio State.
Seydou Traore may not be a household name, but he is one of the best tight ends the Buckeyes faced this season. Traore, a first team all-Sun Belt selection, had 50 receptions for 655 yards this season to lead that conference at the position in both categories. Traore is headed to Oklahoma State next year.
Dyches is an underrated weapon in Maryland’s offense, catching 3 passes for 60 yards against Michigan. Ohio State made him a non-factor even though the game itself was a 43-30 shootout. Of course, multiple other Terps, including No. 2 tight end Dippre, were able to find substantial holes elsewhere in Ohio State’s defense.
The fact that tight ends have scored in each of Ohio State’s past 3 games after getting shut out in the first 9 could be a sign that opposing offensive coordinators are better figuring out how to attack Knowles’ defense. (A slightly more obvious sign is Maryland and Michigan combining to hang 75 points on the Bucks.)
Does stopping Brock Bowers stop Georgia?
Though Bowers is Georgia’s best offensive weapon, the Bulldogs can still succeed without him making much of a contribution.
That’s what differentiates him from his fellow Mackey finalists. Iowa and Notre Dame didn’t function on offense without LaPorta and Mayer putting up numbers. Georgia doesn’t need Bowers to do it all.
Take the Vanderbilt game.
The Commodores were clearly determined to not let Bowers dominate after he scored 3 touchdowns against them a year ago. They succeeded, limiting him to 15 yards on 4 catches.
Stopping anyone else was more of an issue. Georgia passed for 387 yards and won 55-0.
Ohio State has succeeded against some of the nation’s other top tight ends this season. But against Georgia, the Buckeyes must succeed against Bowers and No. 2 tight end Darnell Washington and receivers Ladd McConkey and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint and running backs Kenny McIntosh and Daijun Edwards.
No team has succeeded in accomplishing that task. It will take Knowles’ best game plan and Ohio State’s best execution this season to pull it off.