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We have waited for this week to get here and the arrival of both Michigan and Georgia signals the start of final preparations for the Orange Bowl. On Friday night these two teams will face off in one of the semifinal matchups to determine who plays for a National Championship. After making it thru the holidays, both teams arrived in Miami with only business on their minds.
Things might look a little different than expected for these players, as some events have been called off or moved to a virtual setting, because of COVID. Players will no longer be meeting with media members in-person, with it now being scheduled to take place via zoom. Also, the media day event has been moved to a virtual setting as well. We will see how many activities the teams do outside of their hotel, but that will be up to the coaches to decide, not the Orange Bowl planning committee.
The Bulldogs will begin practicing on Monday in Miami, as they continue to prepare for their first game since losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship. Before leaving for Miami, the team got in one final practice in Athens, then headed to South Florida.
“I think any time you have a long break between games, it’s important to understand how your team needs to practice to play,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “You also have to be smart down here with how you practice because you don’t practice at the same time that you play the game. You play the game at night, and you practice during the day.”
As for the quarterback situation, Stetson Bennett will be participating in his second College Football Playoff. He was running the scout team during the 2017-2018 season, and will now be starting in a semifinal contest on Friday night. In the wild world of football, some stories just write themselves, with Bennett getting an opportunity to finish the final chapter in this story. As JT Daniels continues to quarantine, due to a positive covid test, Bennett will continue taking all the first-team reps. We will see how much of a factor Daniels will be, as coaches are hopeful to have him back for the game on Friday. But for Bennett, he’ll lead his team into a week of final preparations, while also feeling very good about where his team is at mentally.
“We feel good. We practiced hard, we watched a lot of film on Michigan,” Bennett said. “They have a great team but we’re feeling good.”
Speaking of Michigan, they arrived on Saturday evening, with Jim Harbaugh saying he was excited for the blue skies and green grass. The Wolverines will present a tough challenge for Georgia, especially in the running game, led by Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, who combined for 31 rushing touchdowns this season. The offense will be led by Cade McNamara, who threw for 15 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions during the regular season. The way Michigan uses the play-action pass will look different for the Bulldogs as well, compared to what they’ve seen this season.
If you think about the regular season defensive effort from the Bulldogs, it’s easy to appreciate what they did against SEC competition. The Dan Lanning-led defense held opponents to 6.9 points per game, but past records won’t mean much in this game. If Georgia is going to win this game, the defense must look extremely better than the last time they were playing, as Alabama’s Bryce Young tore them apart. But, that’s the great thing about the way Georgia played during the regular season, because it gave them another opportunity to right the wrong. Talented defensive lineman Jordan Davis continues to have a bright outlook on the future, just as he did heading into that SEC Title game.
“This season is all about making history and breaking records and stuff like that,” Davis added. “It’s definitely an honor to be a part of it and we’re just ready to get to it.”
These Bulldogs know they were called out after the Alabama game, having played poorly upfront and not playing their best football, on the biggest stage. But, Kirby Smart told ESPN that his view of this team had not changed and that they’ve learned from that loss in Atlanta.
“We’ve worked. They’ve gone back to, we call it, the doctor, and they’ve gone to get some help and some work on different techniques and things. And I think a lot of times, you learn so much more from a loss than a victory, and our guys have kind of been re-energized and focused.”
To be honest, the loss might actually come out to work in Georgia’s favor. They know what it feels like to lose on a grand stage and from the sound of the players, they don’t want to experience that again this season. Maybe Kirby is right, maybe the loss in Atlanta will be the catapult to a National Championship.
The Dawgs hit the practice field on Monday, working to prove that theory right, as the semifinals await them on Friday.