Ohio State, Georgia reloaded after losing stars to NFL draft
By CHARLES ODUM
ATLANTA (AP) Only months after Georgia defensive linemen and Ohio State wide receivers combined to fill five first-round slots in the NFL draft, those positions again boast top talent for the teams preparing to meet in the College Football Playoff Peach Bowl semifinal.
Georgia had three defensive linemen, including No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker, selected in the first round of this year's NFL draft. Ohio State had wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave chosen with the 10th and 11th picks, respectively.
Despite those important losses, Saturday night's Peach Bowl will showcase evidence that No. 4 Ohio State and No. 1 Georgia reloaded with more star players.
Wide receiver again is a strength for the Buckeyes as two players, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, have more than 1,000 receiving yards. Quarterback C.J. Stroud said Harrison and Egbuka showed their talent even when they had to play behind Wilson and Olave.
"I'm not saying they're better than Garrett and Chris, but they were playing really good football to be freshmen," Stroud said. "And I think when you come in with that type of attitude, I am not just going to be here to learn. I am going to be here to dominate. That's when you learn and that's when you become a great football player. So it hasn't been overnight."
The ability to reload with two 1,000-yard receivers is especially impressive because Ohio State lost AP Preseason All-American Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who will miss the game as he recovers from a leg injury and prepares for the 2023 NFL draft. Smith-Njigba is projected as a possible first-round pick even though he was hurt in the Buckeyes' opener against Notre Dame and played in just two other games.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Stroud is a key to Ohio State's success at wide receiver.
"It is great quarterback, great system, great coaches, great receivers," Smart said Thursday. "They've come up under ... first-rounders. Those kids watched those guys before them play."
Harrison Jr. was an AP first-team All-American. The sophomore leads the Buckeyes with 72 catches for 1,156 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"I think what makes Marvin special is his discipline and his skill," said Ohio State coach Ryan Day. "He's built a tremendous amount of discipline in his life, takes care of his body, prepares at a high level, just unbelievable amount of discipline, the way that he runs his routes. His work ethic is unbelievable."
Meanwhile, Georgia reloaded after leaning on its defense to win the 2021 national championship. After having Walker and two defensive tackles, Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt, taken in the first round of this year's draft, the Bulldogs' 2022 defensive front is led by Jalen Carter, also projected as a high first-round pick.
Carter also was named to the AP All-America team.
"Very good player," Day said when asked about Carter. "Disrupts the game, and their entire front is really good and so is their back end. They really don't have any weaknesses on defense. They're very, very good, and you can see why they're ranked one of the best in the country. They do a good job, and he is very good as well."
Carter helped Georgia rank second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 12.8 points per game. Ohio State ranks second in scoring with 44.5 points per game.
"I'm very confident in the talent we do have on offense, and I feel like when it comes to us playing any team in the nation, I feel confident with our guys and our ability to sling the rock," Egbuka said.
Georgia had a record five defensive players selected in the first round and 15 players picked overall in the 2022 NFL draft. Linebacker Quay Walker, selected by Green Bay, and safety Lewis Cine, by Minnesota, were the Bulldogs' other first-round picks.
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Updated December 29, 2022