Georgia and Michigan reached their college football playoff semifinals in the Orange Bowl in different directions. The question is whether this positive or negative momentum plays a big role as the teams battle to reach the championship game in Indianapolis on January 10.
The Bulldogs have been strutting around for most of the regular season, intimidating every opponent along the way from Clemson to Georgia Tech behind a defense quickly placed alongside the best in recent Football Bowl Subdivision history. Then came the SEC Championship game, and Alabama just as quickly put an end to the Bulldogs’ sense of invincibility with a convincing victory.
The Wolverines feel quite different after breaking off an eight-game losing streak against Ohio State en route to their first Big Ten title since 2004. They’ve won five in a row, relieving coach Jim Harbaugh and giving him confidence. team that they can finally live up to the high expectations of the program.
This will only be the third meeting between the SEC and Big Ten schools, the most recent having taken place in 1965. A common thread connecting the two historically successful programs is a prolonged drought: Michigan failed to win Championship since sharing the crown with Nebraska in 1997, while Georgia has not dominated college football since 1980.
One good thing Georgia has going for it is that Michigan’s offense is not in the same class as Alabama’s. So the nation’s top-ranked defense can charge up while running and force Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara to beat them in the air. If the hasty attack by the Wolverines, who have ranked 10th in the nation this season, cannot start, it could be a long night for Harbaugh and his crew. Georgia 31, Michigan 10.
Last time we saw the Georgia Bulldogs, their historic defense was torn apart by Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young in Atlanta. The screening naturally left a bad taste in people’s mouths, but it also obscured the fact that Georgia were the best college football team for the first 13 weeks of the season. Michigan’s breakthrough campaign under Harbaugh has been an incredible story – but the Wolverines’ premier racing style plays straight into Georgia’s hands. Without a groundbreaking quarterback, I don’t think Michigan will be able to muster enough points against Georgia to win (even if the Bulldogs’ own offense battles the tough Wolverines). Georgia 24, Michigan 13.
The force-against-force confrontation seems to favor Georgia. But don’t overlook the fact that Michigan is the most prominent team in the playoffs, having cleaned up against Ohio State and Iowa. A low scoring game could switch to a single game. Georgia 20, Michigan 17.
Georgia can go in two directions after losing to Alabama. Either the Bulldogs learn from the disappointment or those flaws are exposed against Michigan. While the Wolverines are more dominant than the Crimson Tide, they can still hurt the Georgia secondary who was split by Bryce Young. Michigan’s defense is strong enough to slow the Bulldogs down in what should be an old-fashioned semifinal that feels like a brawl that comes down to the fourth quarter. Georgia 21, Michigan 16.
There are a lot of similarities between these teams. The biggest difference is that Michigan can throw it if they have to. I am not convinced that Georgia can. Wolverines can also find a few yards on the ground outside. It won’t be a track and field competition, but Michigan will have more big games. Michigan 27, Georgia 17.
This game is down to strength, and it will be interesting to see what Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis comes up with to deal with the obvious problem of trying to run football on the Georgia defense. The likely scenario is that Michigan hits a brick wall and cannot generate enough points to cross the finish line. Georgia 17, Michigan 13.
Who has the advantage?
When Georgia runs
The Bulldogs’ racing game was absent against Alabama, but was very consistent throughout the regular season. Up to four runners – five if you count quarterback Stetson Bennett – could play a role against the Wolverines. Michigan bottomed out against Kenneth Walker III and Michigan State, but has played well since. EDGE: Georgia.
When Georgia passes
Michigan want to put Georgia in clear passing situations and send Hutchinson and the rest of the pass howling into the backfield. It will be a long day for the Bulldogs if Bennett is forced to beat the Wolverines with his arm. But the offensive line has been strong and there are options at the receiver level, so the potential is there for the Bulldogs to hit the field big if given the chance. EDGE: Michigan.
When Michigan is running
Michigan had a great season from Haskins and Coburn, but didn’t face anything like Georgia’s top seven. The Bulldogs are allowing 2.6 yards per carry and have allowed just three rushing touchdowns all season. While it won’t be easy, look for the Wolverines to still attack the Bulldogs with a dedicated racing game. EDGE: Georgia.
When Michigan passes
Take away Alabama’s loss and Georgia are allowing 150.8 passing yards per game with 12 interceptions on just five touchdowns. But how can you ignore what the tide has done to this secondary school? McNamara and the Wolverines will have chances in the air, but the line must continue to protect the pocket. Michigan allowed just 10 sacks in the regular season. EDGE: Georgia
Michigan has only missed two field goals all season. The Wolverines also have the best covering units in the country. Combine them and you’ve got the best special teams teams in the playoffs and a potential advantage if the game is close. EDGE: Michigan.
Kirby Smart has been on this stage before and knows how to prepare a team for the semi-finals. But Jim Harbaugh has done a remarkable job saving his tenure from the brink and the Wolverines are in full swing ahead of New Years Eve. EDGE: Michigan.