Oklahoma and Georgia meet on Monday, Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl with a trip to Atlanta, Ga. and a berth in the national championship up for grabs. This Big 12-SEC clash in Pasadena is an interesting contrast in style of play. The Bulldogs want to use their ground attack to control the pace of the game and limit the possessions by the Sooners' offense and quarterback Baker Mayfield. Oklahoma would prefer to press the tempo and get out to an early lead, forcing Georgia out of its comfort zone on offense. Mayfield, tight end Mark Andrews, edge end/linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and running back Rodney Anderson are just a few of the stars for the Sooners. On the other sideline, running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and linebacker Roquan Smith are the top players for coach Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs.
While all eyes will be on Mayfield, Chubb, Andrews, Smith, Anderson and a few of the other high-profile players, a couple of under-the-radar players always break out with performances that could help decide the winner of the Rose Bowl. Which players could be an x-factor on Monday? Here are five candidates to watch:
5 X-Factors for Oklahoma and Georgia in the Rose Bowl
Reggie Carter, LB, Georgia
Georgia’s linebacker group is among the best in college football, but this unit will be missing Natrez Patrick in the Rose Bowl matchup against Georgia. With Patrick away from the team, senior Reggie Carter is slated to take over as one of the starters on the interior of the linebacking corps. In 11 appearances this year, Carter has accumulated 27 tackles (2.5 for a loss). The senior has four starts in 2017, including the road loss at Auburn and the win in Jacksonville over Florida. With Carter having previous experience, the drop in production from Patrick should be minimal. However, Georgia’s depth here is something to watch against Oklahoma’s up-tempo attack.
Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
The gameplan for Georgia isn’t a mystery. The Bulldogs want to establish the run, win the battle in the trenches and limit the possessions by Oklahoma’s offense and quarterback Baker Mayfield. But even if Georgia has success with the run, the offense has to connect on play-action throws or passes on first down to keep the Sooners from crowding the box. Fromm was steady all season as a true freshman, completing 63 percent of his throws for 2,173 yards and 21 touchdowns to just five interceptions. With a month to prepare for the Rose Bowl, how much will Fromm develop since the SEC Championship?
CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Lamb was one of college football’s top freshmen receivers during the regular season, catching 40 passes for 741 yards and seven touchdowns. However, Lamb was relatively quiet late in the year, catching just seven passes over the final four games. Expect that to change in the Rose Bowl, as Lamb should see plenty of targets with Georgia aiming to slow down Oklahoma’s big-play threat on the outside in Marquise Brown and first-team All-America tight end Mark Andrews.
Aaron Davis/J.R. Reed/Dominick Sanders, S, Georgia
Georgia’s pass defense didn’t give up much in the way of yardage or scores this season. However, in a mid-October matchup against Missouri, the Bulldogs gave up two 63-yard completions to receiver Emanuel Hall. Oklahoma’s receiving corps and quarterback Baker Mayfield is the best passing attack Georgia’s defense has faced in 2017, so limiting the big plays downfield will be a challenge. The Bulldogs have talent in the secondary, which includes Athlon Sports All-SEC selections in cornerback Deandre Baker and safety J.R. Reed. Assuming Baker, Malkom Parrish and Tyrique McGhee hold their own at cornerback, it will be on the safeties to prevent any coverage busts downfield and protect against big plays. Mayfield and his receiving corps generated 15 passes of 50 yards or more. Georgia has to keep everything in front of its defensive backs and make the Sooners drive the length of the field.
D.J. Ward/Amani Bledsoe/Marquise Overton, DL, Oklahoma
Let’s group the projected defensive line starters into this space. Ward, Bledsoe and Overton are the first line of defense against Georgia’s standout ground game. Ward was the best out of this trio at generating negative plays (7.5 tackles for a loss), with Bledsoe and Overton combining for six. Can this group hold their own at the point of attack against Georgia’s offensive line?