Oh, how a month can change the mood around a team.
Despite Georgia fans feeling somewhat hopeless after another loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship, Georgia players remained optimistic heading into the Orange Bowl, saying that they had their biggest goal still in front of them.
The Bulldogs played like it too, scoring on drive-after-drive in the first half to put Michigan in a hole that they have not been in all season. Georgia’s defense also got back to playing like the unit that we saw for the first 12 games of the year, stopping Michigan’s highly-touted run game, while also forcing turnovers.
“Defensively and offensively, we had a really great opening drive,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart after the game. “I thought that set the tone for the game. I did not think we played as well in the second half as we’re capable of and got a little flat, but I appreciate the effort and commitment to the players.”
In fact, Georgia’s offense scored on its first five possessions of the game led by Orange Bowl offensive MVP Stetson Bennett, who played one of his most complete games of the season. Bennett completed 21 of his 31 pass attempts for 307 yards and three touchdowns.
Bennett completed his first nine passes of the game, making quick decisions to neutralize Michigan’s aggressive offensive line led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Aiden Hutchinson, who was not much of a factor throughout the duration of the game.
“Since the time football started spreading out and you started throwing the ball a little bit more, you have to account for the extra guy in the box, whether it’s a blitzer or a down safety for your run game,” said Bennett. “That was a bunch of the stuff that we did early on… when you get our guys out in space, especially with the blockers at the skill positions that we have, good things happen.”
That then helped Georgia open up the deep ball, where Bennett found both James Cook and Jermaine Burton for receptions of over 50 yards in the second quarter, one going for a touchdown. Cook alluded to aggressiveness being a big part of the game plan coming in.
“I told the guys, every time we go out there, we’ve got to score every drive and don’t leave no points out on the field because that’ll get you beat like it did against Alabama,” said Cook.
The Miami-native, who said he grew up right by Hard Rock Stadium was explosive all night for the Bulldogs with 131 total yards from scrimmage and a touchdown.
Defensively, Georgia played with the chip on their shoulder that multiple players talked about heading into the Orange Bowl. The top-ranked Bulldogs run defense made it difficult all night for Michigan to get the run game going. That contributed to the Bulldogs sacking Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara four times.
“They have a great offensive line,” said Jordan Davis. “But we just wanted to make sure that we were dominant and physical up front. We wanted to make sure we tested them, gave them a challenge. That was our gameplan going in, being a physical, more dominant front. It was a battle of the line of scrimmage. That was our goal.”
Physicality was a word that was used to describe Michigan’s offensive line but, as Davis said, the Bulldogs completely dominated the Wolverines from the first drive on.
Now Georgia will get another shot at No. 1 Alabama, who upset the Bulldogs in Atlanta in the SEC Championship on Dec. 4. With the game just 10 days away, Smart was not interested in celebrating the Orange Bowl victory for too long knowing the challenge ahead and the quest for a title on the line.
“We’ll look back on that win and that’ll be great, but we’re focused on the task ahead and that’s the objective,” said Smart. “They worked their tail off for three to four weeks to get this opportunity, and it was a one-game season, and now it’s another one-game season.”
Click here for for the full press conference with Kirby Smart, Stetson Bennett and Derion Kendrick: