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Michigan vs. Georgia: Key Matchups

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Here is where the game will be won or lost.

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

The No. 2 Michigan Wolverines face the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs in the Orange Bowl for a chance to advance to the National Championship this Friday. Both teams enter with 12-1 records on the season and look for their first national title in the CFP era.

The Wolverines have been electric this season and have been playing some great football over the last couple months while the Bulldogs have been front and center all season, entering their conference championship undefeated before falling to Alabama. Both teams stack up quite nicely, with different strengths that should make for an excellent semi-finals game this Friday.

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara has been a solid and reliable presence at the helm of Michigan’s offense. With the aid of his offensive line and star-studded backfield, he has the chance to guide the Wolverines to a win. Despite being a quarterback already makes minimal mistakes, he will have to play a near perfect game to keep the Bulldogs at bay.

His leadership is well regarded among his teammates and his ability to maintain a level head in all situations has been instrumental. What McNamara lacks in flashy stats he makes up for in consistency and game management. He can be the guy to throw for over 300 yards against a top 10 team, but he can also have a more quiet role in elevating Michigan to success. He works well in Michigan’s system and it’s evident from the feats they have pulled off this season. In games against AP Top 25 opponents, McNamara has thrown for 928 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions off of a 65.5% completion rate.

McNamara will be called upon once more to help guide the Wolverines to a win over Georgia. He’ll have to stick to his guns and remain level-headed to minimize mistakes while playing to his strengths. On the season he’s thrown for 2,740 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Georgia is led by senior quarterback Stetson Bennett, who takes on a similar role for the Bulldogs. With consistency in the pocket and talented receivers down the field, Bennett and Georgia plowed through their regular season schedule. In games against ranked opponents, Bennett has thrown for 893 yards, eight touchdowns and interceptions off a 64% completion rate.

Bennett meets success with the aid of his receiving corps. He’ll have to exemplify leadership and consistency as well, while being prepared to counteract Michigan’s elite pass-rush. On the season, Stetson has thrown 2,325 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven picks.

Georgia will face a true competitor in Michigan, as the overall quality wins of the Wolverines’ last two games presents a unique challenge for the Bulldogs. Georgia could mimic Ohio State, throwing for its season average 247.9 passing yards a game, but that doesn’t guarantee touchdowns. The Buckeyes were 34-for-49 and threw for 394 passing yards and two touchdowns in a 42-27 loss to the Wolverines. In the Big Ten Championship, Iowa was 19-of-38, throwing for 175 yards and one pick. The Maize and Blue can effectively counteract pass heavy offenses while limiting opponents from scoring.

Georgia, in its last two games, reflect a more convoluted story. In the lopsided loss in the SEC Championship, the Bulldogs allowed Alabama to throw 421 passing yards and three touchdowns, as the Tide completed 26 of their 44 passes. For their final game in the regular season, the Bulldogs faced Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets threw for a meager 68 passing yards on 8-of-16 throwing. While the Wolverines aren’t a team known for throwing for 400 yards, they have the ability to put an emphasis on their passing threat if need be. Georgia will have to be prepared for both aspects of Michigan’s offense.

A major contributor to Michigan’s successes this year is the offensive line. They have been exemplary in creating gaps for their running backs while keeping their quarterbacks protected in the pocket. With the aid of their offensive line, the Wolverines have rushed for 223.8 rushing yards a game. They’ve only allowed 10 sacks all season, notably not allowing playoff caliber Ohio State a single sack in their rivalry game.

Georgia stacks up a tough front as well, allowing its backfield to average 194.9 rushing yards. While the Bulldogs don’t boast a flashy backfield, they can find their tactful advantage in spacing provided by their offensive line. They do just as well as the Wolverines in keeping their quarterback protected in the pocket, allowing only 11 sacks this season. However, three of them came in the game against Alabama.

A huge point of contention for this game is the battle in the trenches. The Bulldogs have one of the best defensive lines in the country, allowing opponents just 81.7 rushing yards and 9.5 points per game. Their defense has recorded 41 sacks so far this year and will look to improve upon that on Friday night. The Wolverines have their own strengths at defensive line. While their defense has recorded 34 sacks this year, 14 of them came from defensive end and Heisman runner up Aidan Hutchinson. He’s followed by senior linebacker David Ojabo with 11. This dynamic duo will be a hefty task for the Bulldogs to actively contain.

Michigan has another dynamite duo in the form of Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum. Michigan’s backfield boasts one of the highest graded duos in the country. Their specialties work in tandem to move the chains while scoring a combined 31 touchdowns this year. Haskins broke a longstanding record of rushing touchdowns by a running back in a season, collecting 20. He has the chance to build upon it this Friday.

Against ranked opponents, Haskins has rushed for 440 yards and seven touchdowns on 90 attempts. The pair have been lethal to opponents all season and with both players at full health, the Bulldogs have the monumental task of containing Michigan’s thunder and lightning. Haskins has 1,288 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns off 261 attempts on the season. Corum has rushed for 939 and 11 touchdowns on 141 attempts this season.

Georgia’s widespread talented assets extend to its own ground game in running backs Zamir White and James Cook as they combine for 17 touchdowns this season. Both match similar workloads this year, rushing effectively and efficiently for the Bulldogs per each attempt. While the offensive output of the Bulldogs has emphasized their passing abilities, the Bulldogs provide a nice balance in offensive play, utilizing the different skill sets of their roster. Against ranked opponents, White has rushed for 294 yards and five touchdowns on 66 attempts. Cook has rushed for 230 yards on 41 attempts against ranked opponents.

Georgia’s backfield has just as much a factor in its offense as the passing threat. Providing a well-balanced attack will be crucial for Georgia in this game. They’ll be looking to prove that they are contenders, despite their performance in the SEC Championship. They’ll mitigate mistakes while playing to their advantages they have had all season. Georgia’s ground game won’t be a nonfactor in this game as they have worked to move the chains for the Bulldogs and set up scoring opportunities all season. They have an efficient ground attack given the difference in number of attempts in comparison to Michigan’s backfield. White has rushed for 718 yards and 10 touchdowns on 135 attempts this season. Cook has rushed for 618 yards and seven touchdowns on 101 attempts.

The Bulldogs will search for redemption while they try to vie for a national title. They have the firepower to make this game interesting for the Wolverines, but this game will also reveal the truth about Georgia. There are questions surrounding their capabilities against ranked opponents and in their most previous attempt, they fell glaringly short. If they want to demonstrate it was only a fluke, they’ll have to execute a near perfect performance in every aspect of play.

Michigan has the makings of pulling off the unthinkable. It entered this season unranked and have made it all the way to the CFP. With goals well within sight, the Wolverines won’t make this game easy for Georgia. They’ll rely on the strengths that have worked for them all season. The Wolverines have just as much to prove to the country as the Bulldogs, and that mental edge might just be the tipping factor in Michigan’s favor.

Michigan and Georgia will meet at the Orange Bowl for a chance at a spot in the National Championship game on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. eastern.