Michigan 11 Georgia 34 – Orange Bowl (CFP SF) Game 14 Recap

GAME 14 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS

Final Score: 34-11, Georgia by 23 over Michigan
SP+ Projection: Georgia by 5.8 (-17.2)
CD Projection: Michigan by 1 (-24)

FIVE FACTORS

GAME 14 RECAP vs. Georgia – Orange Bowl

This turned into the nightmare scenario for how Michigan was approaching the game. The Wolverines won the toss and deferred. Georgia marched 80 yards in 7 plays for an opening touchdown on a well-scouted and perfectly scripted drive. When Michigan turned the ball over on downs at the Georgia 41 on their first possession, it was clear the Wolverines were going to play from behind. That is not where you want to be against a historically good defense.

Offensively, Michigan had their identity snuffed out. The Bulldogs dominated Michigan’s hard-nosed, smash-mouth running attack. With garbage time removed, the Wolverines managed just a 23% Success Rate on called run plays. When the offensive line did create creases for Haskins, Corum, and Edwards the Georgia linebackers were tremendous tacklers and gave up next to nothing after contact.

The Bulldogs also generated more pressure on Cade McNamara than previously seen this season. McNamara was sacked 4 times, and never settled into a rhythm throwing the ball. He also threw 2 interceptions. This was the antithesis of how Michigan’s offense had functioned in 2021. At the end, Jim Harbaugh inserted freshman QB JJ McCarthy because his scrambling ability was a necessity just to survive down-to-down versus Georgia’s front.

On the defensive side, the Bulldogs also ran circles around Michigan. The first 4 Georgia drives were all scoring opportunities, resulting in 2 touchdowns and 2 field goals, yielding 5.0 points per scoring opportunity. On the fifth drive, Georgia QB Stetson Bennett found Jermaine Burton for a 57-yard touchdown strike that felt like the exclamation point.

To Michigan’s credit, they kept battling despite the lopsided score. Josh Ross again led the team with 11 tackles, and sophomore DL added 7 tackles. Dax Hill returned from an unknown injury or illness and threatened a handful of passes on the edge.

But, in the end this was Georgia’s day. Michigan needed to play another near-perfect game to push this game to the brink. The Bulldogs avalanched the Wolverines early, and gave very little chance for Michigan to claw back.

Instead, most fans turned to a New Year’s Eve mentality for most of the evening. We spent a lot of time reflecting and appreciating the great year that was 2021 for Michigan Football. Then, Michigan started making resolutions to build a better 2022.

By the Numbers: Game 14 vs. Georgia – Orange Bowl (CFP SF)

LAST GAME RECAP

The Wolverines jumped out in front of Iowa and never looked back as they eventually steamrolled the Hawkeyes 42-3 to win the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis.

NEXT UP: vs. Georgia: 1st, 31.7 

PREGAME SP+: Georgia by 5.8, Michigan Win Probability 37%

With this being the Orange Bowl, taking place in Miami at a true neutral site, the projection is the difference between the two teams’ SP+ ratings.  The Vegas line has stayed pretty steady at Georgia (-7), so the SP+ model picks the Dawgs to win, but Michigan to cover.

Michigan Offense (16th) vs. Georgia Defense (1st) 

Josh Gattis is the freshly awarded Broyles Award winner, given to the top assistant coach in the nation.  Gattis’ last three game plans have been works of football art.  Michigan’s offensive Success Rate (garbage time removed) in the last three games: 60% @ Maryland; 72% vs. Ohio State; 48% vs. Iowa.  Perhaps more importantly, since identifying their struggles to finish drives in the mid-season, the Wolverines are now averaging 5.0 points per scoring attempt, and have been 6.0+ in their last 4 games.  

This Georgia defense is a whole other beast, though.  Before giving up 41 points to the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship Game, the Bulldogs were giving up less than a touchdown per game on the season (6.9 pts/game).  This match up pits the Michigan run-first mentality against an absolute juggernaut defense.  The Georgia players are almost all former blue chip prospects, with huge size and blazing speed.

In order to have success, the Wolverines will have to do another masterful job of keeping the defense guessing, and they’ll need Georgia to guess wrong at least a handful of times.  The most vulnerable area to attack this defense will be over the middle in the passing game.  An ideal situation would be a combination of the Wisconsin and Michigan State offensive game plans, with a much better running attack in the second half than we saw in East Lansing.  

Michigan Defense (7th) vs. Georgia Offense (3rd)

When the Bulldogs get the ball, there will be fascinating individual battles all across the field.  It seems like defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald will have junior safety Daxton Hill at his disposal, and that is a huge crisis averted.  Hill is the Michigan defender best suited to match up with the Dawgs’ most dangerous offensive weapons.  Georgia likes to get multiple tight ends onto the field, with the big bodies flexed out to block on the perimeter.  Dax has also been the Wolverines’ most consistent edge player in terms of taking on blocks and tackling quick screens.

In the vertical passing game, Georgia is likely welcoming back their most dangerous receiving threat, George Pickens.  Pickens suffered an ACL injury in March, but has taken limited snaps in the last two games for the Bulldogs.  The other major threat for MacDonald to account for with his scheme is true freshman tight end Brock Bowers.  Bowers has been the favorite target of QB Stetson Bennett in the absence of Pickens.  The Wolverines will need another herculean effort from their pass defense to contain those two, on par with the performance versus Ohio State’s wide receiving corps. 

With all that said, what Georgia really wants to do is establish the run game and march along the ground, very similarly to what we’ve seen from the Wolverines in 2021.  While Georgia boasts the 3rd ranked SP+ offense, they have earned that slot versus good-not-great defensive units.  Here are the top 5 SP+ defensive units on the Bulldogs’ schedule this year, with Georgia’s offensive points scored in parentheses: #3 Clemson (3); #10 Alabama (24); #21 Auburn (34); #27 Alabama-Birmingham (49); #34 Arkansas (30).  There is reason to believe that Michigan’s 7th-ranked defense can hold up against the Georgia run game.  Then the Bulldogs’ offensive tackles will be challenged to block both Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo on passing downs.  

PREDICTION: Both teams will show their commitment to battling it out in the trenches via the run game, and I think both defenses will maintain the upper hand.  The early stalemate feeling may feel frustrating, but I would call that success for Michigan.  For most of Georgia’s season, they raced in front of teams via explosive plays, and then leaned on their historically tough defense.  Michigan has been in more gut-check moments in 2021, and should relish a close game in the 4th quarter.  At that point, I believe it will be up to the unheralded quarterbacks.  Stetson Bennett has a running element to his game that makes him dangerous, but I think Cade McNamara will show his mental toughness one more time and make the play the Wolverines need.
Michigan 25 Georgia 24

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (12/05/21), 12-1

  • SP+ Overall: 4th (same), 25.9
  • SP+ Offense: 16th (↑1), 37.7
  • SP+ Defense: 7th (same), 14.5
  • SP+ Special Teams: 3rd (↓1), 2.7

AP Poll: 2nd (same), 1,480

Coaches’ Poll: 2nd (↑1), 1,474

CFP Rank: 2nd (same)

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U-M Resume after Game #13