The first day in 2021 will feature an SEC vs. AAC matchup in Atlanta between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the sight of this great matchup and attendance will be at limited capacity.
The Bearcats are the champions of the AAC and have yet to lose a game this season. Their strength and identity on offense is led by quarterback Desmond Ridder who has thrown for 2090 yards and 17 touchdowns. Ridder is known mainly for being an explosive quarterback rushing for 609 yards and 12 touchdowns.
There is no doubt that the Bearcats are excited and embracing the challenge of playing against a heavyweight SEC opponent in the Bulldogs. This will be their first non-conference opponent of the season and Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell knows they have a lot to prove.
“We are definitely the visitors,” said Fickell. “This is a reward. A reward is oh my gosh, you got to go play against one of the best teams in the country in their home and their land. If you’re a competitor and you love to challenge yourself, it is a reward.”
It is not one single award or achievement the Bearcats are chasing. If the Bearcats are victorious Friday, they will have the Peach Bowl trophy, a win against an SEC opponent since 2011 (against Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl), an undefeated season, and most importantly, a strong case as to why the Bearcats should have been included in the College Football Playoffs.
Bearcats cornerback Ahmad Gardner and linebacker Joel Dublanko are confident that this is a game they can but also know the impact it will have if the Bearcats are able to slow down the Bulldogs’ offense.
“The first thing is I believe we’re tougher than a lot of Power 5 teams all around the country,” said Gardner. “It would put us on the map. All around the country, all the recruiters and scouts and everything, they will know that we have, what it took to beat that team.”
“The style of football that we pride [ourselves] on is tough and nasty,” said Dublanko. We’ll play that brand against a team like Georgia.I know that the SEC is obviously known for being bigger. I think being able to play that brand of football, offensively, defensively, special teams-wise, then win that game, would mean a lot for the power fives, our school, just putting us on the map.”
The other guys in red and black in the Georgia Bulldogs come into this game on a hot streak. After falling in crucial games to Alabama and Florida and failing to reach the SEC championship game, they have won three straight since their 44-28 loss to Florida.
Many fans will say that the Bulldogs fell short of expectations by not winning the SEC East, SEC Championship nor a national championship. Although this may be the case, the Bulldogs still have a lot to play for and the Bearcats are no lightweight team by any stretch.
The Bulldogs are in a third straight New Year’s Six bowl and head coach Kirby Smart is not taking this opportunity for granted.
“When you get to a New Year’s Six bowl, it’s an accomplishment,” said Smart. “For us, getting to a New Year’s Six bowl is one of the expectations every year. You get to play a top-ten opponent.”
The Bulldogs are aware of the Bearcats’ explosive offense and players. Since cornerback Eric Stokes Jr. opted out for the season, the defensive backs will have a challenge trying to stop/slow down the Bearcats. This will mean players like cornerback Tyson Campbell will have to step up and he has high but simple expectations.
“Ultimately besides winning I just want to be able to make plays that are beneficial to the team,” said Campbell.
Defensive back Chris Smith echoed Smith’s expectation and knows he has to make plays in order for the Bulldogs to be successful.
A lot of the Bulldogs’ success offensively came after J.T. Daniels was named the starting quarterback. Since struggling offensively early in the season, the Bulldogs are averaging 41.6 points on their three-game win streak and Daniels is a huge reason for that. Since his start at Mississippi State, Daniels has thrown for 839 yards and nine touchdowns. He only has one interception on the season.
Daniels is confident in the Bulldogs’ offense and is glad they have caught steam since he was inserted into the lineup.
“I do feel like we’ve been really hot as of lately,” Daniels said. “ I think a lot of young guys have matured tremendously from George to Jermaine to big Warren on the line. There’s a lot of guys that have gotten a lot better.”
Smart said during his Monday press conference that defensive standouts Eric Stokes and Monty Rice, will miss the game due to opting out for the NFL draft or injury concerns. However, the defense could be strengthened if safety Richard LeCounte and tackle Jordan Davis return from their injuries.
Kickoff is set for noon on New Years Day at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.