Questions for tomorrow

Paul Myerberg:

Why Michigan will beat Georgia

Because this team is rolling. Given how Alabama sputtered in the Iron Bowl before rebounding to win the SEC crown, Michigan is the hottest team in the playoff bracket. The Wolverines capped the regular season by running for a combined 508 yards and averaging 7.7 yards per play in lopsided wins against Ohio State (42-27) and Iowa (42-3) to capture the Big Ten championship and head into the semifinals on a high note.

Because the Wolverines can be themselves. For better or worse, Georgia will allow Michigan to stick to a familiar script. Rather than being thrust into the sort of quarterback-driven shootout that comes with a matchup against Alabama, the Wolverines can lean on the best running game in the Power Five (223.9 yards per game on 5.3 yards per carry) and try to loosen up the Bulldogs’ defensive front.

Because they won’t beat themselves. Michigan committed 11 turnovers during the regular season, good for eighth among teams in the Power Five, and only lost the turnover battle twice — in those wins against the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes. Quarterback Cade McNamara has thrown just four interceptions in 309 attempts; only three other Power Five passers have or had four or fewer picks in 300 or more throws.

Why Georgia will beat Michigan

Because this defense is still the best. We’ll see if Alabama’s 41-point outburst in early December carries over to the playoff. That seems unlikely based on how this defense fared during the regular season: Georgia still leads the FBS in yards allowed per play (4.01) and points allowed per game (9.5). The Tide accounted for a third of the 124 points the Bulldogs have given up this season; take that game away, and the Bulldogs are giving up just 6.9 points per game.

Because it’s strength against strength. Georgia can respect Michigan’s style and the Wolverines’ late-season surge but still feel good about the on-paper matchup. That’s especially true on defense, where an opponent more interested in setting a tone with physical play up front plays right into the Bulldogs’ strength, depth, experience and scheme along the line and at linebacker. On the flip side, however, Georgia’s offense has to slow down Aidan Hutchinson and Michigan’s wonderful pass rush. That’s a matchup that figures to play out in the Wolverines’ favor.

Because Stetson Bennett has been a lot better than you think. He’s been unable to shake the label of being a walk-on and has been the subject of far more scrutiny than expected from a starter at least partially responsible for one of the best regular seasons in program history. But Bennett has been very good all season in a role tailored to fit his skill set and the Bulldogs’ offensive scheme. He currently ranks second among SEC passers in efficiency rating (176.9) and is the only quarterback in the Power Five to average more than 10 yards per throw.

Jake Rowe:

This should be a fun matchup. The strength on strength matchups are particularly interesting. Georgia prevents big plays on defense. Michigan likes to take its shots on offense. Georgia loves to stop the run. Michigan loves to run the football. The Wolverines love to rush the passer and Georgia does a good job of protecting the quarterback. This game is going to come down to who plays the cleanest, which quarterback plays the best, and which position group plays to its potential and maybe takes the game over. There’s a reason that Georgia is favored by a full score and it’s because the Bulldogs are deeper and more talented overall.

I read that and wondered, what can we realistically take from the Alabama loss and expect to translate successfully Friday night?  In other words, what am I worried about most?  Here’s what I came up with, in no particular order, mainly about the defense, because if Michigan scores 41 points, that’ll be it for the Dawgs:

  • Can Georgia do a better job with quarterback containment?  Of the things that puzzled the crap out of me during the SECCG, Bryce Young running three times for forty yards was pretty close to the top of the list.  Check out his running game log this season.  For the year, he’s averaged less than a half yard per carry; against Georgia’s defense, that average was 13.33.  That’s inexcusable.  Cade McNamara hasn’t been much of a runner this season, either (30 carries for 27 yards), but from the film I’ve seen, he’s got good instincts in the pocket.  By the way, McCarthy, his backup, is something of a good runner, averaging better than four yards a carry.  Georgia’s defense simply can’t break down against Michigan as it did against Alabama.
  • How much can Georgia affect Michigan’s pass rush?  The Wolverines have 34 sacks this season, good for 37th nationally.  But, know what?  Alabama is third in the country, with 46 sacks.  Aidan Hutchinson is lauded, and rightfully so, but Will Anderson’s had a (slightly) better season.  And once the wheels started coming off the wagon in the SECCG, Will Anderson freaked the crap out of Stetson Bennett.  That’s another thing that can’t happen again.
  • Can Georgia defend the slot better?  I’ve harped on this already, but it bears repeating, Georgia’s defenders were abused all game long by Alabama’s slot receivers.  Georgia’s defenders covering the slot allowed a season-high 168 yards across 10 catches, one of which was a score.  And, yeah, yeah, Jameson Williams, I get it, but I saw less otherworldly guys like Slade Bolden have success there, too.  Injuries at safety and star caught up to Georgia in the SECCG.  The Dawgs need Chris Smith back at a level approaching healthy tomorrow.  You know Michigan is going to probe and attack Georgia’s defense there.
  • Turnover margin.  Michigan and Georgia both forced the same number of turnovers on defense this season, but that number is a relatively unimpressive 65th nationally.  Where the gap exists between the two is in offensive turnovers:  Michigan is 13th; Georgia is 53rd.  Stetson can’t give the ball away in Miami the way he did in Atlanta.

It’s certainly not hopeless.  As Myerberg points out, that was a dominant defense we watched all during the regular season and Michigan’s offense overall is a much better match for Georgia than was Alabama’s.  I just hope the staff has used the past couple of weeks to tighten up a lot of things.

16 Comments

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16 responses to “Questions for tomorrow

  1. W Cobb Dawg

    Screw the contain. Put the opposing QB on his back all day and we cake-walk away with the trophy.

    Liked by 9 people

  2. munsonlarryfkajim

    It’s not hopeless. But we haven’t done very well against the best defenses we have faced this season. Clemson and Florida come to mind. Clemson was Daniels but Bennett was barely serviceable in a couple of other games

    Liked by 1 person

  3. miltondawg

    I agree with all the Senator’s points about the defense. I would probably add as more important than containing McNamara (he’s no Bryce Young) is whether Georgia can consistently stop the run. Michigan will almost no doubt play the Georgia-way with the run: Pound, pound, pound early even with limited effect so that in the fourth quarter they can run ball consistently and effectively as the D line gets worn down a little.

    Nevertheless, I still think that the number one determining factor in this game is whether Georgia can run the ball effectively on offense (and I am including the short passing screen game in that to slow down the pass rush). If that happens I think Georgia wins and covers by keeping the defense off the field and fresh for the last quarter or so of the game.

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    • Stopping the run is important, but I’m not worried about it… at least not as much as the other issues I raised. 😉

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      • miltondawg

        As I said, I agree with your assessments about the defense and what they need to get done. Prior to the SECCG, I probably wouldn’t have been that worried about stopping the run. Not that Bama was incredibly great at the run, but the one thing that concerns me is that Michigan goes hurry up to keep people like Jordan Davis on the field. For example, Davis being on the field on second down and then Michigan goes hurry up on a 3rd and obvious passing down to keep the DL on the field. I thought, at least, that the D line looked pretty worn down as the SECCG went on and knowing that Michigan wants to pound the ball to open up the run as the game goes on my concern is whether the D line can hold up once it gets late in the game if they can’t get off the field early in the game.

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        • Tony BarnFart

          I think we may need to see more Jalen Carter and less Jordan Davis if people go the no substitution route on us.

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    • dawg100

      As far as covering the slot receiver, Brini started 12 straight games at star, then didn’t play v Alabama.

      Why?

      Will he play?

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  4. What’s the word on Kendall Milton’s knee? Any chance we get him back?

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  5. As long as we don’t let the winner of the Cotton Bowl mentally lead us out of the locker room to start the game, I think Esss Eeee Ceee speed kills on both sides of the ball. UGA 27 – Khaki pants plowboys 16.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sniffer

      I’m thinking/hoping depth makes the difference. I can’t believe UM has the depth to play deep into 3rd quarter and beyond effectively. Like I said, hope reigns eternal.

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  6. theotherdoug

    When they have ball I’m worried about the slot receiver and explosive plays. I really don’t think they will hang 24 points on us in one quarter like Bama did.

    When we have the ball I’m worried about the offense getting impatient.

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  7. The one major concern I have that I would add to this list is the possibility of a Bama hangover. How much did that game affect the players going forward? I have a pretty good idea how it affected most of the fan base. It just seems that kind of performance on that kind of stage had to have shaken the confidence and swagger to some extent. And in doing so, how much have the players been thinking about another shot at Bama and not 100% focused on Michigan? Maybe that game was a one off & we’ll see a focused & sharp team. One great thing about being young is the ability to shrug things off & move forward.

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