College football: Do Buckeyes have championship frame of mind?

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ATLANTA — Ohio State’s football roster is loaded with players who won state championships at the high school level. In many cases, it’s more than one championship.

Wide receiver Julian Fleming won three state championship in high school in Pennsylvania and lost in the state championship game as a freshman.

Safety Ronnie Hickman played on three state championship teams in New Jersey. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and No. 2 quarterback Kyle McCord started on three state championship teams in Pennsylvania.

Defensive end J.T Tuimoloau and tight end Gee Scott Jr. played on back-to-back state championship teams in Washington.

So, I asked several of the Buckeyes if there is anything they learned from those championship games which might translate into something that would be useful to them Saturday night in their match-up with Georgia in a College Football Playoff semifinal game in the Peach Bowl.

Their answers ranged from maybe it could be helpful to definitely not.

Center Luke Wypler, who won a state championship in New Jersey, called it a learning experience and said, “Winning a state championship in high school was a huge deal and playing on a big stage like that in a game that means a lot and coming to college and playing in a game that the whole world is watching and taking the experiences I had in high school and transitioning them to college level has been huge.”

Hickman said, “Sure, I just think anytime you’re in the biggest games it comes down to little things and preparation. It did in high school and it will now. As long as you take care of those things it will turn out the way you want it to.”

But other players said holding a state championship trophy in their hands in high school wasn’t even in the back of their minds.

Harrison said, “No. High school football is different from college football. I’m definitely blessed to have those three state championships but it’s definitely a little different in college.”

Fleming said, “It’s really just a good high school memory, to be honest with you. It’s good but it didn’t translate.”

Those players and the rest of the Buckeyes will face a formidable opponent Saturday night in Georgia.

The Bulldogs (13-0) are the defending national champion and are favored by 6.5 points over Ohio State (11-1).

Georgia had 10 starters back from last year at the start of this season. It has had some impressive wins, including a 49-3 rout of Oregon and a 27-13 win over Tennessee.

But Georgia has also looked vulnerable at times. Its offense scored only one touchdown in a 16-6 win over Kentucky. And it was behind by 10 points with less than 10 minutes to play before pulling out a 26-22 win over Missouri.

The reaction to Ohio State’s 45-23 loss to Michigan has been pretty brutal at home and in the court of national opinion. How it lost that game has overshadowed the 11 wins that came before it.

Ohio State is not being given much of a chance to win by many people. But is there a better chance than the experts are predicting?

Yes, but a lot of things would have to go right for OSU.

First, the offense has to move the football against a defense that ranks No. 1 nationally in yards allowed per game (77.0) and is No. 2 in rushing touchdowns allowed (5).

Second, Ohio State’s passing game would have to improve over what it has done in its last five games. C.J. Stroud and Ohio State’s strong receiver group of Harrison, Emeka Egbuka and Fleming have averaged only 1.8 touchdown passes per game in those five games.

Third, it’s a cliché, but Ohio State has to win the battle in the trenches. Ohio State would need a big game from its offensive line. Georgia’s defensive line is led by defensive tackle Jalen Carter, a first-team All-American. But it is OSU’s defensive line that has the better sack statistics with 32 to only 26 for Georgia.

Fourth, Ohio State’s defense can’t give up big plays, which was the deciding factor against Michigan.

If Georgia hits one or two big plays, it will be like if the low on fuel light comes on while you’re driving. There’s still a chance to get home. But if the Bulldogs hit four or five, it could be like when the tank truly is empty and you’re left standing on the side of the road.

An Ohio State win wouldn’t be surprising. But the Buckeyes’ defense is still worrisome despite the improvement Jim Knowles has brought in his first season as its coordinator.

The prediction: Georgia 27, Ohio State 24.

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.

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