The No. 2 Michigan Wolverines are just a few weeks away from their first appearance in the College Football Playoffs. They’ll head to Miami to take on the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs in the Orange Bowl. While both teams enter 12-1, Georgia opens as the early 7.5-point favorite.
Michigan has had a stellar season thus far after becoming the first team to earn a bid to the CFP after starting the year unranked. The Wolverines have been playing some of their best football over the past couple of weeks and should it extend through the end of December, the Wolverines could appear back in Indianapolis in the new year. The Bulldogs are a daunting task for the Maize and Blue, but that doesn’t make them unbeatable.
Here are five reasons why Michigan will beat Georgia.
- A defense led by Heisman runner up Aidan Hutchinson
Michigan has met a lot of success this season and a lot of that can be attributed to the turnaround of their defense. It might sound cliché, but the defense has embodied “those who stay will be champions.” Aidan Hutchinson returned for the 2021 season to settle unfinished business. He leads the team with 14 sacks, a single-season record for the Wolverines, collecting three of them against Ohio State.
His play all season earned him a trip to NYC, where he finished as the runner up for the Heisman. On the opposite end is senior David Ojabo, who follows Hutchinson with 11 sacks on the season. Michigan has one of the best pass rushes in the country while also having a scoring defense ranked fourth, only allowing opponents 16.1 points a game.
A lot of Georgia’s offense hinges on its passing threat, and containing that effort while getting to the quarterback will be Michigan’s top priority. The Wolverines have met other elite passing threats throughout the season and were able to diminish their effectiveness and scoring ability. Georgia’s offensive line has been stellar this year at keeping the quarterback protected, by only allowing 11 sacks this season. If Michigan’s defensive line can force sacks, adding to the 34 so far this season, Georgia will face an uphill battle. Forcing Georgia off the field is well within Michigan’s capabilities and the Wolverines are led by some of the best in college football.
2. Having the top RB duo in college football
If there’s a group Michigan has been praised for all season, it’s been the lightning and thunder duo coming out of the backfield. The Wolverines have the highest-graded running backs in the Big Ten in Hassan Haskins (91.5) and Blake Corum (90.4), per PFF. Haskins broke a longstanding record at Michigan, rushing for 20 touchdowns in a season, tied for first in the country.
Haskins finds success as the heavy hitter for Michigan, moving the chains while carrying linemen on his back. His ability to get extra yardage will be critical in a game against a team that will actively try to shut down Michigan’s rush attack. Corum finds success with bursting speed and elusiveness. A few more weeks to recover from an ankle injury will only serve to Michigan’s advantage. Georgia will surely have its hands full trying to counteract a team that averages 223.8 rushing yards a game.
3. Battle in the trenches: Michigan’s offensive line
There’s a reason Michigan has one of the best backfields in the country and a big part of it is due to the offensive line. Playing tough up front and controlling the line of scrimmage is going to be crucial for this game. Georgia presents an equally balanced defensive line, while leading with one of the best rush defenses in the country. However, the Wolverines have already played against four teams with rush defenses ranked in the top 20 this year (Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State).
Michigan’s previous experience against elite rush defenses has allowed it to open and expand upon its own passing threat. Michigan’s offensive line has been exceptional in protecting its quarterbacks, only allowing nine sacks this season. Should the Wolverines find their rush attack stifled, they are well equipped to make use of the versatile Donovan Edwards and talented receiver corps. If the Maize and Blue win the slugfest in the trenches, they might make another appearance in Indy.
4. Michigan’s big play ability
The team that makes the most big plays in this game will likely decide the winner. Luckily for Michigan fans, the Wolverines lead all of college football in plays greater than 50 yards. No other team has pulled off explosive plays near Michigan’s staggering 17 so far this season.
Their ability to capitalize on gaps in opposing defenses and accumulate yardage puts the Wolverines in positions to score points. A 50-yard minimum swing on these plays also allows the Wolverines to consistently control momentum and field position. Michigan’s defense also contributes in tandem by minimizing the amount of big plays its opponents create, only allowing 30 or less yardage plays on average the last few weeks.
5. Michigan is one of the best teams Georgia will face this year
The Bulldogs opened their season with a win over a Clemson team that started in the Top 5. For the duration of their regular season, they faced no other opponent ranked in the Top 15 until Alabama. While their schedule was no cake-walk, as eight of their opponents are bowl eligible, their true test came during the SEC championship. After coming into the SEC Championship game ranked No. 1 in the country, the Bulldogs faltered and after a bone-crushing loss to the Crimson Tide, they fell to No. 3.
The Wolverines have faced three opponents ranked in the Top 15, two of them coming within the last few weeks. Despite losing to a Top 10 Michigan State in October, Michigan has been playing its best football since. The Wolverines were in the driver’s seat for the majority of the game against the Spartans before it all came tumbling down. Since then, they’ve had the wake up call they needed. They took on a Top 5 Ohio State team at home and absolutely demolished a playoff caliber team. The Wolverines waltzed into Indianapolis and shattered a ten win No. 13 Iowa team for the Big Ten title.
Michigan has had its fair share of top ranked opponents this season. The Wolverines got hot at the right time and have been playing some of their best football over the last month. Georgia presents another opportunity for the Wolverines to keep the momentum going.
The Wolverines have found success where people have doubted them and proving the nay-sayers wrong has become a part of the team’s identity and motivation. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has even taken notice, commenting, “they looked incredible in terms of leadership, attitude.”
Michigan is currently the underdog, which only adds fuel to the fire. Georgia presents another difficult task for the Wolverines but luckily for Michigan fans, the Bulldogs are beatable. The Bulldogs will seek a do-over after losing to Alabama, but it might not be enough to take down the Maize and Blue. Michigan has already gone toe-to-toe with a playoff-caliber team and came away with a win and they’ll look to do it again.