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Georgia Matches Up Well With Michigan

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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This is a pairing where Georgia appears to have multiple advantages

On paper, the Orange Bowl seems like a matchup that reads in Georgia's favor.

Before previewing the contest, it's worth reflecting on the incredible season that Michigan just had. What the Wolverines have done is worth acknowledging and appreciating. It's Michigan, mind you, that enters the game as the higher-seeded team. Given their finish to the year, the Wolverines are probably college football's hottest squad. Michigan promptly beat second-ranked Ohio State by two scores, outrushing the Buckeyes 297 yards to 64. The Wolverines followed that up with a 42-3 rout of Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game.  

Michigan ranks in the top five nationally in scoring defense, the top ten in rushing offense and has allowed the fewest sacks in the Power Five. The Wolverines boast talents like running back Hassan Haskins, tied for the P5 lead with 20 rushing touchdowns, and Heisman Trophy finalist Aidan Hutchinson at defensive end, third in the country with 14 sacks, who is projected by many to be the number one overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. For point of reference, Michigan had five players earn first-team All-Big Ten honors, the same number of first-team All-SEC members as Georgia.

Clearly, the Wolverines bring a very good and very capable team to Miami. All with a head coach who has coached in a Super Bowl. Michigan is, without question, one of college football's best teams. 

That said, sports are often about how individual sides compare and contrast head-to-head. This is where Georgia appears to have a significant edge, at least in theory. 

Michigan's strength, a downhill rushing attack, plays directly into Georgia's strength, a generationally-good front seven. The Bulldogs rank second in college football in rush defense in allowing just 81.69 yards per game, a number that only three Power Five teams have bettered over the past three years: 2021 Wisconsin, 2020 Georgia and 2019 Georgia. Simply put, the Bulldogs are the game's modern standard at stopping the run. They, furthermore, have allowed just three rushing scores all year, half as many as the second-place team.

In games against run heavy-opponents this season, Georgia held Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Florida, Missouri and Georgia Tech to an average of just six points per game. It makes sense given that, for the entire year, the Bulldogs have allowed just three runs of 20 yards or more, good for tops nationally. Interesting, the three foes who ran for the most yardage against Georgia this season actually combined to score only one offensive touchdown. 

As Alabama showed in the SEC Championship Game, it may take a historically-good downfield passing attack to consistently move the football versus the Bulldogs. The Crimson Tide scored 41 points against Georgia, but but they did so with the Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, an All-American tackle and two superstar receivers, one of whom leads the league in receiving yards, the other who leads the conference in receptions. Young set an SEC Championship Game-record with 421 passing yards against the Bulldogs. 

Though Michigan has been quite efficient throwing the football, the Wolverines rank merely 7th in the Big Ten in passing. Quarterback Cade McNamara has been effective, though he only has 15 passing touchdowns in 2021; Young, for context, had that many in games against Southern Miss, New Mexico State and Arkansas. Stetson Bennett has 24. Michigan has one receiver with more than 400 yards and no player with more than three scores. The Wolverines aren't at their best playing stlylistically like Alabama did in Atlanta; Michigan actually lost to Michigan State in its season-high for passing yards.

Defensively, the last five teams to beat Georgia have all recorded multiple picks. The Wolverines currently rank tied for 9th in the Big Ten and 91st nationally in interceptions.

Though it's very difficult to project these types of things, a market correction could be on the horizon. There is an old saying in sports that you are never as good or as bad as you looked in your last game. It's probably unlikely that Georgia, ranked number one in the nation before its most recent game, has two bad performances in a row, especially defensively. Michigan, conversely, is fresh off its highest-scoring three-game conference stretch of the Jim Harbaugh era. Almost tverything went wrong in the Bulldogs' last game, while almost everything went right for the Wolverines.

Georgia also has College Football Playoff familiarity and, with Athens much closer to South Beach than Ann Arbor, may have more of a homefield advantage.

Games aren't played on paper. And every new showdown comes with a prior reset of sorts. Make no mistake about it; college football's all-time winningest program, with its most wins since its last national championship, will take the field with plenty of confidence and momentum. This is a pairing, though, where Georgia appears to have multiple advantages. Even against a tough opponent, it's reasonable to expect the Bulldogs to both match-up and play well.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports