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Three Michigan Wolverines to watch for in the Orange Bowl

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These guys will have to stand out for Michigan to have a shot to win.

2021 Big Ten Championship - Iowa v Michigan Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

We are just days away from history as the Michigan Wolverines will due battle with the Georgia Bulldogs in their first College Football Playoff appearance in program history. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Wolverines as a 7.5-point underdog heading into game week. The expectation is a low-scoring affair with the over/under set at 45 points.

This will be the toughest test of the season for the Wolverines in the Orange Bowl in Miami. We all know the guys who excel every week like Aidan Hutchinson and Hassan Haskins, but who else should you keep your eyes on in this matchup? Let’s take a look.

QB Cade McNamara

McNamara has had some ups and downs this season, but overall has been a leader for this team both on and off the field. The junior has only four interceptions on the year, but three of them have come in the biggest games of the year (Big Ten Championship, win over Ohio State, loss to Michigan State). With how successful this Georgia defense has been, McNamara needs to take care of the football on the season’s grandest stage.

Georgia’s defense is expected to slow down the rushing game for Michigan. The Bulldogs boast the best front seven in college football which allowed only 81.7 rushing yards per game this season. If that stands true, McNamara’s play will be vital.

The two worst rushing games this season for Michigan were against Rutgers and Wisconsin where the Wolverines finished with 112 rushing yards in each game. But one was a much different game from the other. Rutgers made it a nail-bitter, scoring 10 second-half points and coming within a touchdown of Michigan. Wisconsin, on the other hand, was blown out.

Against Rutgers, Michigan’s final six possession were

  • 3-plays, 0 yards, punt
  • 3-plays, -1 yard, punt
  • 3 plays, 7 yards, punt
  • 3 plays, 5 yards, punt
  • 8 plays, 33 yards, missed field goal
  • 2-plays, 3 yards, end of game

A whopping total of 47 yards in the second half from the Wolverines as McNamara was 1-of-5 for seven yards through the air. He was missing open receivers and was short on plenty of passes. In total, McNamara was 9-of-16 for 163 yards on the day in a subpar performance.

But if you look at the Wisconsin game, a much different story was told. Wisconsin actually finished the year as the top-run defense team in the country, conceding just 65.2 yards on the ground per game. Georgia is the next closest team to the Badgers at second in this category.

We saw Michigan instilling more confidence in McNamara and the passing game when the ball wasn’t moving on the ground. On the first scoring drive of the game, McNamara completed three consecutive passes stemming off a 3rd and 14 situation that resulted in a 34-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass to Cornelius Johnson.

Michigan went into the break up by three and on the first drive of the second half, McNamara extended the drive again. He hit Roman Wilson for 34 yards on a spectacular catch that put Michigan in a goal-to-go scenario that resulted in another score.

On third down in this game, McNamara was 9-of-10 for 100 yards and two touchdowns; a clear reason why the Wolverines were continuously in situations to thrive and pull away in this game. The game concluded with 197 yards and two scores on 17-of-28 passing for McNamara in what was one of his better performances on the season.

This is the McNamara that Michigan will need to see if it hopes to have success on Friday. He was confident and accurate while making some big plays, keeping drives alive for the running game to get more chances against what will be a large and physical Georgia front.

S Brad Hawkins

Hawkins is by far the most underrated player on this Michigan defense. He has played all over the field in Mike Macdonald’s defense, lining up in the box in about a quarter of his snaps while also playing plenty free safety and the occasional snap in the slot.

The expectation is Hawkins will be playing closer to the line of scrimmage in this one because of Georgia’s offensive philosophy mirroring that of the Wolverines. Quarterback play from Stetson Bennett has been far from premium this season, but he has done enough to help his team win games. But the Bulldogs rely heavily on their defensive play and running game. I assume stopping the run and making Bennett throw the football will be the goal for the Wolverines' defense. Putting Hawkins closer to the line of scrimmage would make a lot of sense in those efforts.

Playing more in the box would also make sense because of Georgia’s leading receiver, tight end Brock Bowers, who lines up in the slot about 47% of the time and is inline 42.6% of his snaps. As a true freshman, he has almost double the number of receptions and receiving yards as any other target on the Georgia offense. That’s why he was named the SEC Freshman of the Year and was an All-SEC first-teamer.

At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Bowers is probably too large of a cover for Dax Hill at just 6-foot, 192. Hawkins is probably the play here who is much larger than Hill standing 6-foot-1 and 221 pounds.

Hawkins is also much better in coverage than any linebacker the Wolverines have and has been playing in a role closer to the line of scrimmage over the past few weeks. For Michigan to win this game, it needs Hawkins at his best.

RB Blake Corum

Hassan Haskins has been unbelievable this season for the Michigan offense and he really stepped up in the weeks without Corum. But I have a feeling Corum is going to need to have a big day for Michigan to come away with a win against Georgia. Look back to the past two games for the Wolverines and when things really started turning around for Michigan.

Against Ohio State, Michigan went into the halftime break up one point. Then on their first drive of the second-half, Corum broke loose for 55 yards and into the red zone. Had he been fully healthy and in game shape, it would have been a house call.

After this play, Michigan went on a 28-14 run to close out the game and beat the Buckeyes handily to propel themselves to the Big Ten Championship Game.

In that game against the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Wolverines went three-and-out on their opening drive and Iowa marched down the field before missing a field goal. Once again, a Corum run got things going for Michigan as he took it 67 yards for the first score of the game in the title matchup:

While the Haskins runs bludgeon defenses to death for mostly short-yardage, some breakaway runs are going to be necessary for Michigan to beat Georgia. More often than not this season those have come from Corum. Who says he can’t have another game-changing run in the CFP?