Georgia beat Michigan 34-11 and face Alabama in the title fight

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – With an overwhelming half at the Orange Bowl, No. 3, Georgia showed that a humiliating loss to Alabama did not break the Bulldogs.

In fact, it could have made them even stronger.

Stetson Bennett threw three touchdown passes, Nakobe Dean led an angry defense and Georgia returned to their dominant ways, beating No. 2 Michigan 34-11 on Friday night to advance to the College Football Playoff Championship.

“Answered a million questions about our team, bounced back, and how to play,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We have a lot of guys with high grades on this team and they played after today.”

“We have a lot of guys with high grades on this team and they played after today.”

– Georgia coach Kirby Smart

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Georgia (13-1) had a rematch with the Southeastern Conference nemesis Alabama (13-1) in the title fight on January 10 in Indianapolis.

It was 27 days ago that Crimson Tide rolled through the Bulldogs and shattered their air of invincibility after a 12-0 regular season in which they were hardly challenged.

“All our guys did was work,” Smart said of how they reacted to the loss.

Georgia's head coach Kirby Smart and the players celebrate their victory over Michigan in the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal match, Friday, December 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Florida, Georgia won 34-11.  (Associated Press)

Georgia’s head coach Kirby Smart and the players celebrate their victory over Michigan in the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal match, Friday, December 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Florida, Georgia won 34-11. (Associated Press)

If there were any questions about whether the injury from the 41-24 setback would continue, the Bulldogs answered them quickly.

Georgia became the first team in CFP’s eight-year history to score on each of its first five ball possessions, leading 27-3 at the break.

“We knew we were better than what we showed the last game,” Bennett said.

Michigan (12-2) went into its first playoff appearance after a milestone season, after ending a long drought against rival Ohio State on its way to winning the Big Ten.

“Let’er tear,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told ESPN moments before kickoff.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett looks set to step out of his pocket against Michigan during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal match, Friday, December 31, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett looks set to step out of his pocket against Michigan during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal match, Friday, December 31, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
(Associated Press)

The Bulldogs certainly did, playing as a team to prove a point.

Georgia scored touchdowns the first two times it had the ball, moving it at will against the Heisman Trophy second-place Aidan Hutchinson and the Michigan defense.

Bennett found freshman tight-end Brock Bowers free in the flats for an 8-yard touchdown pass to cover an 80-yard opening drive.

Georgia took a two-touchdown lead and hit Michigan with some of the tricks the Wolverines have used so well this season. Tailback Kenny McIntosh swept to the right and missed a perfect pass to Adonai Mitchell for an 18-yard TD that made it 14-0 less than five minutes inside the game.

The Wolverines had rolled to their first Big Ten championship since 2004 without being behind by as many as seven points this season.

The Bulldogs hit field goals on their next two possessions, and Bennett joined on a 57-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Burton, who stroked down the sideline to make it 27-3 with 1:38 left in the half.

And that was pretty much it. The Bulldogs dominated in every way, winning the Wolverines 330-101 in the first 30 minutes.

The Georgia defense, which set a historic pace and allowed less than one touchdown per game before being shredded by Alabama, strangled a Michigan offensive built to bully opponents.

Georgia running back James Cook scores against Michigan during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal match, Friday, December 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla.  (Associated Press)

Georgia running back James Cook scores against Michigan during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal match, Friday, December 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

The Bulldogs had none of that.

Dean, the Butkus Award-winning linebacker, diagnosed play before snapping and chased ball holders from sideline to sideline.

The massive nose tackle Jordan Davis was about to collapse in the middle of a Michigan offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award as the best in the country.

Cornerback Derion Kendrick has two interceptions and was the game’s defensive player.

Wolverines finished with 88 yards rushing after averaging 223 per game. Cade McNamara was 11 for 19 for 106 yards.

It was simply no competition, and now the Bulldogs will have a chance at redemption against Alabama, who are trying to win their first national title since 1980.

All the stands in the way are the most accomplished dynasty in the history of college football, the rivalry that Smart, a longtime Nick Saban assistant in Alabama, has tried to model his program after.

Georgia opened as a 2 1/2-point favorite, according to the FanDuel Sportsbook.

TAKEAWAYEN

Georgia: There were plenty of questions about whether Bennett should remain the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback after throwing two interceptions against Alabama. Georgia fans wondered if it was time to switch back to USC transfer JT Daniels, who was QB1 to start the season before an injury opened the door for Bennett.

The former walk-on completed his first nine passes against Michigan en route to 307 yards and showed more than enough arm strength on a 53-yard bomb to James Cook in the second quarter. Bennett was named offensive MVP.

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Michigan: The 2021 season will provide plenty for the Wolverines to look back on with joy. The Orange Bowl showed that it’s one thing to close the gap to Ohio State, but there are currently two teams at the top of college football in a completely different class than the rest.

“This is the stare,” Harbaugh subsequently told ESPN. “In Michigan’s history, it’s one of the best teams ever.”

NEXT

Georgia: Bulldogs face Alabama for the second time in the CFP title game. The Bulldogs have lost seven straight against Tide, including the 2017 championship game in overtime.

Michigan: Wolverines open the 2022 season at home against Colorado State.

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