Nothing comes easy when you get to the College Football Playoffs, as the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs have for the second time under head coach Kirby Smart. That becomes especially true when having to face a team built on physicality, offensive and defensive line play and the ability to run the football.
When talking about Michigan’s defensive line, Aiden Hutchinson is the first name that comes to mind. Hutchinson is a candidate to be the first overall pick in April’s 2022 NFL draft with 14 sacks this season, which is third-best in the nation. The Wolverines also have David Ojabo who also has 11 sacks coming off of the edge as well.
These are the kind of matchups though that Georgia looks forward to.
“Our offensive line embraces challenges like this,” said Smart. “They want these opportunities. It’s what you come to college to go play against is the best in the country, whether that’s the best in the country at run defense or best in the country at rushing the passer. You want to play against the best. You want to be measured against the best, and that’s what the playoffs allow you to do.
If Georgia is to stop Michigan’s physical pass rush, having senior offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer at full strength will be important. Salyer has been Georgia’s best offensive lineman this year, playing left tackle with the versatility to move to other positions if needed.
Salyer on Wednesday said he feels, “really good” after battling with a foot injury towards the end of the season. He did start in the SEC Championship game against Alabama but might not have been 100 percent. Despite being a bit undersized for a tackle, Salyer’s mindset allows him to excel at the position against supreme talent, as Michigan has.
“Obviously it’s tough with not having the same 6-6 measurables as the next guy,” said Salyer. “It’s a mindset thing. If you allow that to hold you back, then it will. If you allow that to slow you down, then it will. But if you go out there and you work hard every day and you take the mindset that I can do this and I will do this and nothing’s going to stop me from doing it, it will happen for you, no matter what that is in life.”
Georgia’s offensive line has only allowed 11 sacks through 13 games this season, which is second-fewest among power five schools. The only team that has allowed fewer – the Michigan Wolverines, who only allowed 10 in the same span.
The Bulldogs’ defensive line has been regarded as one of the best in recent years but did not register a sack against Alabama. Georgia defenders are looking to change that by showing Michigan’s stout offensive line things that they have not seen before.
“As a whole, they have a good offensive unit, offensive line unit, and just I think those guys are very physical up front,” said Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker. “We just have to attack them, do things that they haven’t seen before or just strain more than they strain.”
The Bulldogs currently sit as 7.5 point favorites but perhaps an easier indicator of who will win the game is whichever team wins the battle in the trenches.
For Kirby Smart’s full Wednesday presser: