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The second game of the College Football Playoffs looked to be the one that would bring the most fireworks, as Michigan and Georgia squared off in Miami. The Orange Bowl turned into a lopsided game by the time both teams headed to their locker rooms at halftime, as Georgia embarrassed the Wolverines 34-11 in the second semifinal game of the day. An all-around dominant performance by the Bulldogs now leads to a heavyweight rematch for the National Championship in just 10 days.
Georgia looked like they had been reading the press clippings this week about not being able to throw the football, as Stetson Bennett opened the game 9-9 for 92 yards, before throwing his first incompletion. It didn’t take long for the Bulldogs to get on the board, as they methodically drove down the field for the opening touchdown, thanks to the Brock Bowers catch. Just as quick as the first one, after Michigan failed to convert on fourth down, Georgia drove 59 yards for the second touchdown, as RB Kenny Mcintosh hits Adonai Mitchell for the TD pass.
The trick play gave Georgia a 14-0 lead, while the Michigan defense looked lost on defense on consecutive drives. The Bulldogs were causing just as much havoc on defense, only allowing 42 yards of offense in the first quarter. This was the start Kirby Smart was looking for out of his team, especially with the defense causing Cade McNamara to misfire on a few throws.
Nakobe Dean, Nolan Smith and Quay Walker were all over the field for Georgia tonight,
Entering the second quarter, Michigan had only managed to gain 42 yards of total offense, while Georgia continued to have success on first down. On the opening drive of the second quarter, the Bulldogs went 49 yards on 11 plays, which ended with a 43-yard field goal, after Bennett misfired on two passes. After settling for the field goal, Georgia had scored on its first three possessions and the Wolverines were down 17-0, looking for some kind of spark on offense. The massive Jordan Davis lived up to the hype early on tonight, as the Wolverines were having to double-team the mammoth nose guard.
The first downfield shot for Michigan came at the 9:41 mark of the second quarter, as McNamara connected with Roman Wilson for 42 yards. Thanks to defensive pressure, Michigan was forced to settle for a field goal after the 57-yard drive, cutting the lead to 17-3. On the ensuing drive, Stetson Bennett went back to work, hitting James Cook down the sideline for 53 yards, which led to a Georgia field goal and a 20-3 lead.
It was pretty obvious at this point that Michigan linebackers and the secondary were going to have a tough night defending the speed from Georgia. Scoring on four straight possessions is one thing, but how the Bulldogs were having success on offense was eye opening. The middle of the field was wide open for Georgia receivers, as Michigan continued having a hard time shutting down the open lanes. As rough as the Michigan defense looked, the offense looked worse, thanks to the Georgia defensive front. The Dan Lanning-led defense compiled two sacks in the first half, along with multiple quarterback hurries.
Kirby Smart said during his postgame press conference that there wasn’t a special potion that helped the defense tonight.
“Defensively, we generated some better rush. Again, we have to be able to do that to be successful. Was it a magic potion, I don’t think it was a magic potion, we called a lot of the same calls that we called against Alabama. The quarterback probably didn’t escape as good as Alabama’s did, but we finished a little better.”
If that wasn’t enough for Michigan in the first half, Bennett hit Jermaine Burton down the sideline for a 57-yard touchdown, giving them a 27-3 lead before halftime. Adding to the misery, Georgia forced a Michigan interception with 1:28 left in the second quarter, gutting the Wolverines’ chances of adding any points. In an awkward move, the Bulldogs decided to get conservative with the play-calling before half, taking timeouts and the huge lead into halftime.
Georgia had scored on five of its six possessions and held the second largest lead in playoff history, with Stetson Bennett throwing for 234 yards and two touchdowns. The Dawgs controlled the line of scrimmage from the start, wearing down the Wolverines defense and making them look below average in the process. Simply put, it was embarrassing on both sides for the Jim Harbaugh led squad, especially giving up 330 yards of offense in the first half. Kirby Smart spoke about taking what the defense gave tonight, as it relates to Stetson Bennett.
“I don’t think it was a calculated get the ball out quick answer, it was what the defense gives you. Nowadays you take what the defense gives you and Stetson had to make a lot of decisions that people aren’t aware of and made good decisions on where to go with the ball.”
Just as folks thought Michigan might make things a tad interesting in the second half, Cade McNamara threw an ugly interception after driving the Wolverines 56 yards to the Georgia 14 yard line. The Bulldogs first three and out of the game came at the 8:25 mark in the third quarter, as Michigan finally made a substantial stop on defense. But, only a few plays later, Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean forced a turnover by stripping running back Blake Corum. The Wolverines couldn’t get out of their own way tonight, which showed again, as the Bulldogs took over.
Nakobe Dean spoke about how this defense has gotten better, coming off the loss in Atlanta to Alabama just under a month ago.
“Just basically the way we worked over the past couple weeks, what we emphasized and the work we put in, I feel like we’ve gotten better, and we need to continue to work for the next week and a half and continue to get better.”
At the 7:25 mark in the third quarter, the Bulldogs had only rushed the ball 16 times, which looked almost like the same scheme they ran against Alabama in the SEC Championship. The key tonight was that they ended up not needing to rush the ball much at all, thanks to Stetson Bennett getting his team out to a huge lead with his passing. The only true blemish of the game through the third quarter from Georgia was a missed field goal attempt from 45 yards.
At the end of the third quarter, Georgia had amassed 400 total yards, compared to 206 from Michigan, while the Bulldogs were averaging 8.2 yards per play. Michigan fans had already left the stadium, looking for a good place to drink the night away and forget about the last game of 2021. As the fans were leaving the stadium, Bennett connected with James Cook for a 39-yard touchdown and extended the lead to 34-3.
It was a huge night for Miami native James Cook, who finished with 131 total yards and one touchdown, having the most receiving yards of any player tonight. Also, Brock Bowers continued to shine, hauling in one touchdown, with 65 yards receiving. Speaking of Cook, he spoke after the game about Stetson Bennett blocking out the noise and not letting negativity get to his head.
“I mean, as a leader, as Stetson as a leader on our offense, he doesn’t let that negativity go to his head, for real. Like he said, he ain’t got no social media, he carry a flip phone around, and he stay off social media, and he just let the noise go over his head and play football. That’s what I love about him.”
For Bennett, he stills remember that Rose Bowl game a few years ago and was asked for his thoughts on the journey from then to tonight in Miami.
“Everyday from then till now, you just go about your business and put your best foot forward and somehow it works out.”
The Georgia defense couldn’t keep the Wolverines out of the end zone, as they scored a meaningless touchdown with 4:25 remaining.
What we witnessed tonight was Georgia taking advantage of its speed and giving the Wolverines no wiggle room to work on offense. The Dawgs defense flew around the field all night, causing turnovers and not giving Michigan a chance to establish any kind of rushing attack. This is the type of defense that won them twelve games during the regular season and one that needs to show up in Indianapolis on January 10th against Alabama.
We also saw Stetson Bennett prove his coaches right, especially with his command of the game and accuracy through the air. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken said this week that Bennett had made “National Championship Plays” all season, and tonight his point was proven. His poise in the pocket and ability to make plays with his feet were on full display in Miami, proving some of his doubters wrong.
Now the Bulldogs get a chance at redemption against Alabama, which is exactly what they were hoping for.