So, in the end, it all comes back to what sort of lesson do we take from the SECCG. Did Alabama expose Georgia’s fatal flaws and show the Dawgs are really more like paper tigers? Or, as Seth Emerson ($$) put it, was it more a case of Georgia running into “the one team in the country with the same talent level, and… an elite quarterback and speedy receivers who ate up a vulnerable secondary”?
If it’s the latter, it’s hard to be scared about today’s meeting, because Michigan’s offense is about as polar opposite Alabama’s as you can get. While it presents challenges, they’re ones that Georgia’s defense is capable of controlling. Moreover, even if Georgia succeeds in that, Michigan isn’t built to change the way it operates. Here’s what Brian Cook says about that.
Wisconsin is a similarly elite rush defense and Michigan running backs scuffled to 93 yards on 34 carries, with a long of just eight. You could squint and say that those results without a single 10+ yard run is relatively encouraging, especially since Michigan has been extremely explosive on the ground this year. But preventing explosives is a skill and Georgia is even better at that than Wisconsin is. Wisconsin 20+-yard runs allowed: 5. Georgia: 3. Even mighty Alabama took one look at this front seven and noped out, rushing Brian Robinson Jr just 15 times to 44 Bryce Petty [sic] passing attempts.
Michigan probably cannot maintain reasonable levels of offensive efficiency while passing 75% of the time. That’s not their DNA. So they either win by burying Stetson Bennett in defensive ends or finding ways to cobble out enough efficiency here to make play action reasonably effective. Ways they get there include running back overperformance, JJ McCarthy evening up numbers, Michigan’s OL being on another level from previous Georgia opponents, and wacky stuff. All of these are at least plausible; none seem particularly likely.
And if they can’t? Cook’s suggestion is that the best option is to keep pounding away in three-yard chunks.
The ability to get reasonable gains on a down to down basis and put Michigan in positions they can succeed on third down is going to be equally important. And things might be… pretty okay here? Georgia’s defense does not feature blitzball linebackers and their underlying DL stats paint a picture. Georgia’s 42nd in line yards, 44th in power success rate, and 39th in stuff rate. They’re just okay at preventing the first couple yards. They are *extremely* good at preventing everything but those first couple yards since they’re 10th in opportunity rate and—as mentioned above—have given up just three chunk runs this year.
It’s not too hard to envision Hassan Haskins getting those first two to three yards and then Haskinsing himself another couple, and that adds up tremendously over the course of a game.
That’s as opposed to Alabama barely even making the effort to run the ball.
Of course, that won’t be enough. Michigan will have to break some big plays to have a real chance. The problem there is, as Brian notes, Georgia is very good at not letting opponents do that.
Wisconsin is a similarly elite rush defense and Michigan running backs scuffled to 93 yards on 34 carries, with a long of just eight. You could squint and say that those results without a single 10+ yard run is relatively encouraging, especially since Michigan has been extremely explosive on the ground this year. But preventing explosives is a skill and Georgia is even better at that than Wisconsin is. Wisconsin 20+-yard runs allowed: 5. Georgia: 3.
But what about the passing game, you might ask. No, Michigan doesn’t have a Young or Williams to attack with, but that doesn’t mean that things weren’t exposed in the SECCG that might give Michigan an opportunity to exploit. I’m going to be nervous until I see that Georgia’s figured out a better way to defend the slot receiver than it did in Atlanta. And I’m going to be concerned if Georgia’s pass rush can’t generate more consistent, effective pressure than it did against the Tide. Call those my “paper tigers” concerns. If Smart and Lanning haven’t figured out how to shore those up, Michigan may not put up 41 tonight, but it’ll certainly be able to move the ball effectively within its offensive scheme.
On the other side of the ball, I have to say that Michigan’s defense isn’t appreciably better than Alabama’s. That being said, if the Wolverines find a path to build a significant lead along the way, I expect their defense will be formidable enough to make it difficult, if not impossible, for the Dawgs to mount a comeback. Michigan isn’t the only team playing tonight built in a particular way.
I don’t really see that happening, though.
A few other considerations:
- Nobody’s talked much about special teams. Georgia’s aren’t a liability, but Michigan’s are exceptional. If the game comes down to special teams, that’s probably not a good thing.
- There’s a lot of whispering lately that Georgia is close to full strength, healthwise. If that’s true, it’s a big deal, especially for the receiving corps.
- Michigan in ninth in the country in red zone conversion percentage, but only 64th in red zone touchdown percentage. I’d like to think that might be important, except Georgia is worse in both categories. On the other hand, they’re considerably better in red zone defense than is Michigan.
In the end, I think there are some obvious lessons Michigan will try to take and apply from the SECCG. The big one is on defense, of course. As Brian writes,
The formula is to avoid straight dropbacks when possible and to lean on the run game threat to keep it from landing on Bennett’s shoulders too heavily. If you can disrupt the formula you can get some nonlinear improvements.
… QB Stetson Bennett was clearly rattled in the second half of this game as he found himself in an unfamiliar situation and began to lose faith in his protection.
That worked because Georgia’s defense cracked and left Bennett and the offense in an untenable position. It’s hard to see how Michigan can fully replicate that strategy without first putting the Dawgs in a hole on the scoreboard. After all, if you’re asking Stetson Bennett not to lose the game for you, it helps tremendously if you’re not losing in the first place.
It would also help if the offense could avoid as many third-and-longs as possible.
I could go on and on, of course. If you want more of a deep dive, check out Graham’s analysis for that. (I’ll just say that his 31-10 prediction is way too optimistic for my taste.)
This game just feels like a grinder to me. It’s what both coaches prefer and both teams are good enough to prevent the other from running away with things, barring a rash of turnovers. Bottom line, I like both the under and Michigan covering. Call it 24-20, Dawgs.
Have at it in the comments.