No. 15 Texas (9-4) vs. No. 5 Georgia (11-2)
When: 7:45 p.m. (CT) Tuesday, Jan. 1, at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Betting line: Georgia -11
Georgia player to watch: Jake Fromm
The sophomore is already an NFL prospect and could very well be a high first-round pick come 2020. He nearly led Georgia to a national championship a year ago and has been even better this season statistically. The most accurate passer in the SEC, Fromm will have to play well in order for Georgia to claim the Sugar Bowl.
Texas player to watch: Sam Ehlinger
Talk about a battle of sophomore quarterbacks. Ehlinger, like Fromm, is a second-year player who’s had a standout season. The biggest reason Texas is in the Sugar Bowl to begin with is Ehlinger’s impressive play this year. The Longhorns have finally found an answer at quarterback. Like he’s done many times this season, Ehlinger will have to deliver another big performance with both his arm and legs.
Georgia’s 3 keys to the game
1. Contain Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson: How Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker, this year’s Jim Thorpe Award winner, fares against Humphrey and/or Johnson will be fascinating to watch. Texas has made big plays in the passing game all season with Humphrey and Johnson, and limiting those two in the Sugar Bowl will be a challenge for Georgia’s secondary.
2. Let D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield do the work: This was the best rushing attack in the SEC this season for a reason. The Bulldogs, led by talented runners D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield in the backfield, averaged just over 250 yards per game and six yards per rush. Georgia should turn Swift and Holyfield loose early against the Longhorns.
3. Get pressure on Ehlinger: Georgia does not have an elite pass rush and only averages 1.69 sacks per game, which ranks 101st nationally. If he gets time to throw, Ehlinger has shown to be a very precise passer this season. The Bulldogs will have to get pressure on him and make sure he doesn’t break loose from the pocket for positive gains, as he’s been custom to doing.
Texas’ 3 keys to the game
1. Contain Swift and Holyfield: This probably will be the toughest rushing attack Texas has seen all year. Georgia’s two-back system with Swift and Holyfield, who’ve combined to rush for nearly 2,000 yards this season, is difficult to stop. The Longhorns, despite having the No. 2 rush defense in the Big 12, showed some serious lapses during the season.
2. Ehlinger needs a big day: There is no other way around it — Ehlinger needs to have a huge performance, similar to his efforts against Oklahoma twice this year, in order for the Longhorns to beat Georgia. He’ll have to find his big, physical wide receivers in Humphrey and Johnson to move the chains, and then make some plays with his feet.
3. Force turnovers: Forcing turnovers was a major factor in some of the Longhorns’ key wins this season. Against a heavy favorite like Georgia, Texas will need to take the ball away and capitalize, while also protecting the ball on offense. The Longhorns ranked third in the Big 12 this season in turnover margin.
Why Georgia should win
For one, the Bulldogs are 11-point favorites and have a more well-rounded team. This team could have very well been in the College Football Playoff and competing for a national championship for the second straight year. Between the balanced passing and rushing attacks, coupled with a feisty defense that’s led by a Thorpe Award winner in Baker, Georgia is a team that is legit. It will take a heroic effort for Texas to win.
Why Texas could pull off the upset
Texas coach Tom Herman has said throughout the season that the Longhorns need to play their A-game in order to win week in and week out. Anything less than an A-effort against Georgia and it could be a long night. But Georgia isn’t playing in the College Football Playoff like it had hoped, and Texas has the benefit of being the underdog with a little bit more to play for, including the program’s first 10-win season since 2009. Ehlinger will need a big effort for Texas to pull off the upset.
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