We’re just over 6 hours away from Georgia and Ohio State’s prime time matchup in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. The Buckeyes haven’t played a game since losing to Michigan on November 26th, and Georgia hasn’t taken the field since December 3rd. That’s a long layoff for both teams to get healthy, but it looks like one may be in slightly better shape than the other in terms of injuries and opt outs which could affect the game.
Georgia remains pretty unscathed by opt outs and transfers. Reserve defensive lineman Bill Norton announced he’d be entering the transfer portal on December 7th and has already committed to Arizona. Tight end Arik Gilbert also recently confirmed his exit.
But neither player had seen significant snaps this season. Gilbert finished with 2 catches in 3 games. Norton played in all 13 games prior to his transfer, but managed only 3 tackles and no sacks or quarterback pressures.
On the injury front the Red and Black are just about as healthy as they’ve been all year, but that still means some key question marks. Ladd McConkey re-aggravated a knee injury in the SEC Championship Game, and while Kirby Smart was “hopeful” about his return on Monday, McConkey wasn’t on the field today during the media viewing period at practice earlier this week. Also absent in practice was starting left tackle Warren McClendon, who went down with a leg injury after being rolled up in the SEC title game.
However McClendon was on the field for practice by Thursday. And ESPN’s Laura Rutledge confirmed this morning on Gaeday that McConkey will also be available tonight.
Georgia should also have AD Mitchell back full strength, which provides a nice insurance policy if McConkey is at all limited. After playing a key role in Georgia’s 2021 national title run Mitchell missed most of 2022 before returning to play 15 snaps against LSU. Still Mitchell hasn’t caught a pass in game action since the September 10th home opener against Samford. It also remains to be seen if he is back in game condition.
Ohio State on the other hand has a couple of high profile opt outs and one key contributor who may be injured, or not, depending on whether you believe your eyes or your ears. Junior receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba won’t be suiting up for the Buckeyes. After being the top receiver in 2021 on an OSU team that included two first-round picks, Smith-Njigba played in only three games this season and snagged just 3 receptions for 43 yards. The former five-star recruit is still projected to be a 1st round draft pick.
Linebacker Teradja Mitchell will also be missing the Peach Bowl, having already elected to transfer to Florida for his final year of eligibility. Mitchell was one of the Buckeyes’ leading tacklers in 2021 but fell out of the rotation in 2022, recording no tackles.
But things look particularly interesting at the running back spot. Sophomore TreVeyon Henderson is missing the Peach Bowl to have surgery on a fractured foot that hampered him for much of the season. Henderson still managed to finish second on the team in rushing with 571 yards and 6 touchdowns, so taking him out of the rotation isn’t insignificant.
Perhaps more concerning for Buckeye fans is that leading rusher Miyan Williams’ status remained up in the air for most of the week. Williams took over as the starter in Henderson’s absence this season and tallied 817 yards and 13 touchdowns. But Williams suffered an ankle injury in the Michigan game. On Tuesday he was scheduled to meet with the media but was reportedly “under the weather” and was replaced by fellow tailback Chip Trayanum. Then on Wednesday Williams wasn’t on the field during the media viewing period.
Ohio State’s coaches have said Williams had a great week of practice, but it’s a little weird that no one is actually seeing him on the practice field. By this morning unconfirmed reports had surfaced that Williams might have the flu and that coaches didn’t want him passing it on. The boys in Vegas usually have a decent nose for this sort of thing, and it’s worth noting that after reports of Williams’ health improved the line at DraftKings moved from Georgia -6.5 to -6.0.
If Williams can’t go or is limited he’ll be replaced by freshman Dallan Hayden, who showed some homerun potential in rushing for 510 yards on the season. But past that things get dicey, as the Nuts’ only other tailbacks are converted linebacker Trayanum and walk-on Cayden Saunders, who’s only carried the ball twice all season.
Because Henderson and Smith-Njigba were both limited for large parts of the year it’s doubtful their absence will have a huge effect. But if Williams is limited, I think it makes the Buckeye offense a little more one dimensional, which is not what you want against a UGA defense that’s enough of a problem when they don’t know what’s coming.