The Michigan Wolverines are headed to the College Football Playoff for the first time in program history and are playing their best football of the season on this run. Quite the contrary could be said for their first-round matchup, the Georgia Bulldogs, who got boat raced by the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship.
Georgia has plenty of question marks. They came into that SEC Championship Game loss against Bama with the No. 1 defense in college football allowing only 6.9 points per game. But, Nick Saban came in and dropped 41 on them in their biggest game of the season and the Crimson Tide were easily the best opponent Georgia had played all season.
Saying Georgia had the easiest final stretch of any team in the CFP would be putting it lightly. The Bulldogs faced a miserable Georgia Tech team and Charleston Southern before they lost in the SEC Championship. Their final five opponents were a combined 26-31; a team like them SHOULD annihilate everyone in their path with that kind of schedule.
To make matters worse, they had only three wins against top 25 opponents this season: No. 19 Clemson Tigers, No. 21 Arkansas Razorbacks and No. 22 Kentucky Wildcats. None of those wins really qualify as a signature win. So the loss to Alabama at that magnitude really spoke volumes about this Bulldogs team and its defense. They weren’t this absolute titan some pegged them to be.
The question remains of where this Georgia team stands. Did it just have a bad night against a really strong Alabama team? Or is this squad just another good SEC team that obliterated bad competition all season long?
But their defense has been by far and away the best in college football this season. Their front seven rivals the best in the country as they held even Alabama to only 115 yards rushing. That group allowed only 81.7 yards on the ground all season long.
We’ve seen the Michigan offense struggle throughout stretches of this season when they can’t move the ball on the ground. While it hasn’t happened often, especially recently, the Michigan rushing attack needs to move the ball effectively on the ground to win this game. Big play ability from Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins will hopefully assist in that endeavor.
Alabama’s defense shut Georgia down by making Stetson Bennett play quarterback. While the Georgia quarterback threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns, he also threw two costly interceptions that helped the Crimson Tide pull away in the second half. Kirby Smart didn’t want to give up on the run despite Bama stacking the box. They had only 109 rushing yards on 30 carries in the SEC Championship game. Michigan will have ample time to prepare to hopefully force a similar situation.
But the real X-factor of this game is going to be Michigan’s pass rush. Georgia’s offensive line allowed three sacks and 14 pressures last week against Alabama, per PFF. It had allowed eight sacks in their 12-game regular season prior to that contest. David Ojabo and Heisman-hopeful Aidan Hutchinson could be the difference-makers in this one.
Bennett has hardly been pressured this season but when he has been, he is one of the worst quarterbacks in college football, according to PFF. He’s completed only 30.2% of his 63 dropbacks when he was considered under pressure this year, and threw three of his seven interceptions this season when he’s had a hand in his face. But if kept clean, he is exponentially better. He has a 22-to-2 touchdown to inerception ratio when he has a clean pocket, along with 2,069 of his 2,324 yards this season. The pass rush from Hutchinson and Ojabo could easily be what gets Michigan to the National Championship.
Both teams have done things the same way: running the football, controlling the clock and relying on their defense to win them games this season. This game could really come down to who can do that better.
Fans and some analysts were clamoring for Michigan to be No. 1 heading into the College Football Playoffs, and there is no better way to prove it should have been than by winning the whole damn thing. It all starts on New Year’s Eve against a good Georgia team that is coming off a loss in its most important game of the year. This should be a fun one.