Kirby Smart And Jim Harbaugh Both Impressed By Physicality As They Prepare For Playoff

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We are finally to the point of the season where we start discussing the College Football Playoff, and this year, one matchup will feature Georgia versus Michigan.

Georgia and Alabama turned into a shootout in which the Bulldogs’ defense found it hard to contain Bryce Young, who set multiple offensive records. For all the talk about how this Georgia defense could get after the quarterback and make him uncomfortable, they didn’t do so against the Tide. Whether he was throwing it down the sideline or across the middle, Bryce Young seemed to have time to make throws happen. This ended up killing the Bulldogs, who aren’t typically asked to win a shootout.

Now they turn their attention toward Michigan and the physical rushing attack. The Wolverines rushed for a solid 211 yards against an outmatched Iowa team, but the 297 yards they rushed against Ohio State was even more impressive. Hassan Haskins alone scored five touchdowns against the Buckeyes. If Georgia wasn’t preparing for the run against Alabama, I can promise you they will be against Michigan.

Though he mentioned he hasn’t had a lot of time to break down the film besides the Iowa game, Kirby Smart had this to say about Michigan:

“The biggest thing I noticed was the physicality they played with last night. The leadership they had. I was thoroughly impressed with the interviews that I saw among their players post-game. I think you can always tell where a team stands and what they’re all about by what they talk about, the messaging. To hear those guys talk after the game was really impressive. They’re a senior-laden, senior-driven team that leads that way.”

There is no reason to doubt this game will be won at the line of scrimmage, but it will also depend on which quarterback finds the most success in the play-action. We all witnessed Stetson Bennett throw two costly interceptions against Alabama, one of which was returned for a touchdown. So it’s fair to ask about how Georgia will respond if they fall behind again and have to rely on Bennett to bail them out. But Kirby Smart was quick to point out during the Orange Bowl conference call that not everything can be put solely on Bennett, as the defense put him in some bad spots as well.

“Obviously, we have to play better in a lot of areas, but to put any part of that blame or all of that blame on Stetson, there was a lot more to it. We’ve got to play better around him, we’ve got to play better on special teams and defense, really all facets of the game. There were some really, really good throws last night by Stetson, so only his guys could catch the ball. We’ve got to continue to work on some of the poor decisions in a couple of throws there that were picked off.”

Jim Harbaugh admitted that he’s watched Georgia play a few times this season and pointed to what stands out the most to him about the Bulldogs.

“Have watched them throughout the year. General impressions are they are rugged. Rugged, tough squad. Play extremely well on all sides of the ball and special teams. Really excited to dig into it and study them.”

It’s also been a year in which Michigan has had to meet expectations, which included finally beating Ohio State and recovering from a brutal loss to Michigan State. Harbaugh’s been impressed with how his group has answered the bell every week, starting in fall camp.

“Been a mindset from back in January that every day matters but only 12 are going to count, then 13 are going to count, now 14 are going to count. It’s been a lot of work from a lot of people. It’s a building of guys working, not worrying.”

I think we can all say we’ve watched these two teams play numerous times this season and come away impressed. Georgia currently ranks 2nd in total defense, giving up 254 yards per game, while Michigan comes in at 13th with 316 yards. Both teams are pretty steady in rush defense. Georgia is allowing 171 passing per game, while Michigan is giving up 194 yards.

Let’s not forget that Michigan now has a Heisman Trophy finalist, as Aidan Hutchinson became the first Michigan finalist since Jabrill Peppers in 2016. Hutchinson’s ability to get to the quarterback should worry Kirby Smart, just as the Georgia defense should force Harbaugh to look into passing the ball more, which the Dawgs struggled with against Alabama.

Early impressions of this game will make some folks wonder how each team will rely on the passing game. Either way, a battle in the trenches is upcoming, with each team trying to establish some type of rushing attack. Both Cade McNamara and Stetson Bennett rely on their running backs to set the tone, while they manage the game through the air when needed.

Both teams’ schemes will most likely look the same in Miami, at least in the beginning. But as we witnessed this past weekend with Georgia, looks can be very deceiving.


Written by Trey Wallace

Wallace started covering the SEC in 2012, as the conference landscape was beginning to change. Prior to his time in Knoxville, Wallace worked in Nashville for The Read Optional, where he first produced content that garnered national attention. His passion for sports is evident in his work and has led him to break some of college football’s biggest stories. His social media reach and natural podcast proficiency continue to make Wallace one of SEC’s most trusted sources.

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