Georgia wants that rematch with Alabama. It hungers for another battle with the Crimson Tide in the national championship game, four years after that unforgettable yet painful night in Atlanta when a future Heisman Trophy winner named DeVonta Smith broke the Bulldogs’ hearts on 2nd and 26 in overtime.
By Matt Zemek
Georgia longs for that first national championship since Herschel Walker under Vince Dooley in 1980, the culmination of a magical year with the sounds of “Run, Lindsay, Run!” and “My God! A freshman!” ringing in the ears of Dawg fans of all ages.
Before being able to play for the national title, however, Georgia has to win the Orange Bowl and get through the College Football Playoff semifinal round against Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan will enter this game with total belief after finally getting the Ohio State monkey off its back. Let’s look at what Georgia needs to do to get to the national title game, where Cincinnati might be the opponent, but Alabama is likely to stand on Jan. 10.
1 – Stetson Bennett can’t lose this game
Stetson Bennett might not win this game for Georgia. He might not make spectacular plays against a strong Michigan defense which has Heisman Trophy finalist Aidan Hutchinson. He might not lift Georgia to a stratospheric height. That’s okay. What Bennett must focus on is avoiding a crippling, crushing, game-changing mistake that gifts Michigan seven points or provides an opening to the Wolverines in a high-leverage situation. Some games are won by making more big plays. Georgia, against Michigan, must win due to mistake avoidance. If the Dawgs avoid huge mistakes, they can win an ugly, low-scoring slugfest. Stetson Bennett needs to play with an understanding of that central point.
2 – Throw the first punch
Michigan is a tougher team than Ohio State. We haven’t been able to say that very often in recent years, but it was true in 2021. Michigan kicked Ohio State in the teeth before the Buckeyes’ speed on the edges was able to have an effect. Georgia was not able to kick Alabama in the teeth in the SEC title game. As a result, the Crimson Tide’s speed at the skill positions was able to emerge in devastating fashion for Georgia. Michigan is more like Georgia than Alabama in its playing style, but it remains that asserting early physical superiority is likely to determine how this game unfolds. If Georgia is playing this game on its heels, in response to Michigan’s initiative, the night is unlikely to unfold favorably. If the Dawgs rattle and stagger Michigan with an early flurry, it’s hard to see how the Wolverines will have a Plan B. Don’t expect a second-half comeback in this one. It’s all about who takes control in the first half.
3 – Zero differential
If Georgia can simply be zero – not positive, not negative – in turnover differential or huge kicking game mistakes (missed kicks, big kick returns allowed), the Bulldogs likely have better athletes and physical warriors than Michigan does. This game will be a decisive win for Georgia if it is plus-three in turnover differential, but merely being zero as opposed to minus-1 should still be enough to prevail.