Analysis: Georgia dominates Michigan in Orange Bowl, advances to national championship

Marc Weiszer
Athens Banner-Herald
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) throws against the Michigan defense during the CFP national semifinal on Friday night in Miami Gardens, Fla.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Georgia football lost an air of invincibility that was built up during a dominant, unbeaten regular season and then unspooled during 60 minutes of play in the SEC championship game.

The No. 3 Bulldogs restored the reputation it created through the first 12 games by dismantling No. 2 Michigan in a College Football Playoff national semifinal 34-11 Friday night in the Orange Bowl.

"The resiliency, the bounce back, the amount of character, I've seen it all year," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "You can list all the things that we did in the last game. That's all our kids have heard about for three weeks. Our focus has been on, OK, what can we do to get better at, where can we turn our energy, because it does not good to look backwards."

'We’re going to the natty, baby!': Bulldogs see Orange win as next step for Alabama rematch

Georgia showed it is still a force to be reckoned by rocking the Wolverines by running out to a 27-3 halftime lead before 66,839 Hard Rock Stadium.

Now the Bulldogs stand on the doorstep again of winning its first national title since 1980. 

All that stands in the way once again is Alabama, the team that drilled the Bulldogs 41-24 nearly four weeks earlier and earned another trip to the title game by downing Cincinnati 27-6 earlier Friday in the Cotton Bowl. 

The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide will play Jan. 10 in Indianapolis at 8 p.m.

“We’re bringing all the Dawg Nation with us,” Smart said pointing to the crowd.

Here are takeaways from a semifinal win that moved the Bulldogs to 13-1 on the season, tying a program record for wins:

Stetson Bennett quiets the critics

Twenty-seven days after Stetson Bennett’s showing against Alabama bubbled up plenty of talk that Georgia needed to make a change at quarterback, coaches stayed true to their word and stuck with Bennett.

He made offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s offense click to the tune of scoring on the first five drives of the game.

Bennett torched the Michigan defense, going 21 of 31 for 307 yards and 3 touchdowns and no interception.

"I didn't go out there and play well today in spite of people," said Bennett, named the bowl's offensive MVP. "I came out there and played well and worked hard throughout the few weeks we had off because my teammates needed me to do that, and we needed that to win."

The former walk-on started 9-of-9 for 92 yards including completing all four passes on the opening drive.

He hit tight end Brock Bowers on a 35-yard completion on the opening drive and then on a 9-yard touchdown.

"He's been really focused the last couple of weeks," Smart said. "I think it's amazing to have a guy his age block out all the noise and just focus harder."

Bennett took advantage of favorable matchups to hit running back James Cook, lined up wide, on a 53-yard connection, beating linebacker James Colson to set up one of two Jack Podlesny field goals. Cook added a 39-yard touchdown catch in a bowl his brother, NFL star Dalvin Cook, was named game MVP when he played for Florida State.

With 1:38 to go in the first half, Jermaine Burton cruised past cornerback Vincent Gray for a 53-yard touchdown from Bennett.

"I tried not to underthrow them this week," Bennett said.

Georgia averaged 15.2 yards per completion.

It came after Bennett was 29 of 48 for 340 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions including a pick six against Alabama.

Georgia defense roars back

Outgoing Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning termed his guys’ performance against Alabama as a “hiccup.”

More:Georgia losing defensive coordinator Dan Lanning to Oregon head coaching job

It certainly looked that way against Michigan (12-2).

The Bulldogs held a Wolverines team that was 12th nationally in scoring at 37.7 points per game to 3 points until it gave up a touchdown pass from backup QB J.J. McCarthy with 4:25 to go when Georgia had pulled starters.

The Wolverines finished with 325 total yards and averaged 5.2 yards per play.

"We just wanted to make sure that we were dominant and physical up front," said nose guard Jordan Davis, who had two tackles including one for loss.

Michigan’s vaunted rushing game was held to 88 yards on 27carries — just 3.3 yards per carry.

"Great defense," Michigan offensive lineman Andrew Vastardis said. "A lot of those guys will be playing on Sundays. Good luck to them moving forward."

Michigan’s 39 rushing touchdowns ranked as second best in the FBS. Georgia still has allowed just three rushing touchdowns.

Georgia gave up 539 total yards including 421 passing and had 0 sacks and no forced turnovers against Alabama.

This time, the Bulldogs got a pair of interceptions off Cade McNamara (11 of 19 for 106 yards) from Clemson transfer cornerback Derion Kendrick, the defensive MVP, and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt recovered a fumble forced by inside linebacker Nakobe Dean.

Michigan produced four plays of 20 or more yards, but a couple of those came with the game long decided.

Georgia had allowed 7 plays of 20 or more against Alabama.

Lanning had a play sheet attached to his waist and was calling plays as usual.

In the first quarter, Michigan drove into Georgia territory but the Bulldogs held their ground as McNamara passes to tight ends Luke Schoonmaker on third down and Erick All on fourth down went incomplete.

On the next series, Robert Beal got a sack, Quay Walker batted down a pass on a rush and Dean snuffed out a short pass to force a Michigan punt.

Georgia later forced a three-and-out with a 20-3 lead to give the offense the ball back that they turned into seven points in only 3 plays.

A taste of their own medicine

Michigan has pulled out the stops this season to good success with flea-flickers and halfback passes.

Georgia did a rare trick play of their own for its second score of the game.

Kenny McIntosh took a handoff and ran to the right before stopping and lofting a pass to the right side of the end zone to freshman Adonai Mitchell. It put Georgia up 14-0, capping a six-play, 59-yard drive.

Radio sideline reporter D.J. Shockley reported McIntosh was 0-of-8 in practice on the play.

“He didn’t throw a good pass this whole week," Cook said.

Cook said he was surprised that Monken called the play because he thought "Hold on, I know he ain't going to call this and he didn't throw a good pass all week. And he threw it. That was a good pass. I was stunned. When he called it, Kenny made a good throw. That was a great throw.”

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior is a local product from University School in Fort Lauderdale.

It had been quite a long time since a running back threw a touchdown pass for the Bulldogs. The last was Thomas Brown to quarterback Joe Tereshinski for 9 yards against Florida in 2005.

Keeping score of sacks

Michigan boasts a pair of pass rushers that are drawing first round projections, but Aidian Hutchinson and David Ojabo had quiet games.

Heisman Trophy runner-up Aidian Hutchinson, who entered with 14 sacks, went without a sack. David Ojabo, who had 11, also didn’t record one.

"Sucks it's got to end this way," Hutchinson said of a season that included a surprising Big Ten championship and first CFP appearance.

Left tackle Jamaree Salyer and right tackle Warren McClendon neutralized them.

"We wanted to play our best game," Salyer said. "We knew the strength of their defense was their defensive ends."

"They listen to everybody talk about those guys rushing, and Jamaree and and Warren are good pass protectors," Smart said. "When they don't or give up penetration, Stetson did a good job avoiding. There was a couple of times we got beat, even on the touchdown pass. I thought Stetson did an incredible job of getting the ball in the air."

Bennett was hit hard as he threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Cook with 11:11 to go.

Earlier, Hutchinson was bearing down on Bennett on a first down and Bennett took off and worked his way through the defense for 20 yards.

Georgia’s defense, which never could sack Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, racked up four sacks from outside linebackers Robert Beal and Nolan Smith, inside linebacker Nakobe Dean and defensive end Travon Walker.

"It was a battle of the line of scrimmage," Davis said.

"I feel like we've gotten better," Dean said, "and we need to continue to work for the next week and a half to continue to get better."

Ojabo chased down Bennett in the third quarter who threw incomplete but took a shot as he unloaded by another Michigan pass rusher. On a third-and-12 in the third quarter, Aidan Hutchinson rushed off the left side but Bennett unloaded quickly to Kenny McIntosh for 18 yards.

Running backs accounted for eight catches for 141 yards for Georgia led by 3 for 99 yards by Cook.

"They were able to bleed out yards on the perimeter with some of the bubbles and swing routes," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.

It’s Georgia-Alabama again

The SEC will have the college football national champion for the fifth time in the eight times they playoff has been held.

It’s an all-SEC national championship once again with the same matchup as the 2017 season when Alabama prevailed in overtime.

The Crimson Tide finished a blowout of Cincinnati before Georgia kicked off.

"They got like a five, six-hour head start," Smart said.

Alabama won the CFP in 2015, 2017 and 2020 and LSU in 2019.

In the BCS era, Alabama beat LSU 21-0 in 2011.

Alabama makes it 15 of the last 16 SEC champions have advanced to the national championship game, per SEC spokesman Chuck Dunlap’s Twitter account.

The Crimson Tide rushed for 301 yards after leaning heavily on Young and the passing game against Georgia.

Georgia won its second game against a top 3 opponent this season.

It opened the season by beating a No. 3 Clemson.

Michigan fell to 0-10 against AP top 3 teams, per ESPN.

This was the Bulldogs highest ranked win since outlasting No. 2 Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2018.

"They played a heck of a game," Harbaugh said, "in all phases."