We’ve got a rematch for the national championship.
No. 3 Georgia put No. 2 Michigan away in the first half of the Orange Bowl on the way to a 34-11 win Friday night. Georgia’s win sets up a game with No. 1 Alabama for the national title on Jan. 10.
Alabama beat Georgia, 41-24, to win the SEC title on Dec. 4 and take the top seed in the College Football Playoff. The rematch between the two teams is the first in the playoff era and just the second national title rematch since the BCS was put in place in 1998. The only other title game rematch in the BCS and playoff era came in January of 2012 when Alabama beat LSU for the national title after LSU beat the Crimson Tide in the regular season.
That Alabama win over LSU was the first all-SEC title game of the 2000s. The second came after the 2017 season when Alabama beat Georgia in overtime to win the national title.
Michigan never led in College Football Playoff semifinal
It was clear from Georgia’s first two drives of the games that Michigan was overmatched. The Bulldogs (13-1) got the ball to start the game and went 80 yards in seven plays for a 7-0 lead. After Michigan (12-2) turned the ball over on downs in Georgia territory, Georgia then went 59 yards on six plays for a 14-0 lead with 4:41 to go in the first quarter after running back Kendall McIntosh threw a TD pass to Adonai Mitchell.
The game was over from there.
The lead was 27-3 at halftime after Jermaine Burton caught a 57-yard TD pass from Stetson Bennett with 1:38 to go in the half. The only low spot of the half for the Bulldogs came right after that TD; Georgia immediately got the ball back after an interception of Michigan’s Cade McNamara but an apparent miscommunication between coach Kirby Smart and Bennett led to Georgia running out the clock for the rest of the first half instead of trying to get more points.
Stetson Bennett’s great game
Bennett had his worst game of the season in the SEC title game as Georgia was unable to come back in the second half. The days between the title game and the Orange Bowl were filled with speculation from Georgia fans if Bennett was actually the team’s best quarterback or if J.T. Daniels — the USC transfer who supplanted him at the end of last season and opened this season as a starter before an oblique injury — should be the guy at QB for the Bulldogs against the Wolverines.
All Bennett did in the first half on Friday night was deal. He was 16-of-22 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns as the Bulldogs built that three-touchdown lead at the break. He also had a key 20-yard scramble.
Save for the snafu at the end of the first half, Bennett was in command of the offense as Georgia put the game away early. That was evident in the way that Georgia attacked the Michigan defense before the game got out of hand. The run-heavy Bulldogs rushed the ball just 13 times in the first half while Bennett and McIntosh combined to throw 23 passes.
Bennett finished the game 20-of-30 passing for three touchdowns after throwing a long TD pass to RB James Cook in the fourth quarter.
Michigan’s line struggles with Georgia’s front
Michigan’s offensive line was one of the best in college football and won the Joe Moore Award for the best line performance of the season. The UM line dominated Ohio State in the final game of the regular season and bowled over Iowa in the Big Ten title game. It was going to hold its own against Georgia’s marauding front, right?
Not exactly. Georgia’s defense pushed around Michigan up front, bullied McNamara and Michigan’s powerful running game was stifled.
McNamara has been at his best in 2021 when he’s been able to play off of Hassan Haskins and one of the best rushing offenses in the country. But without a run game to scare the Georgia defense, Michigan’s offense was incapable of coming back. The Wolverines had a chance to get back into the game at the start of the third quarter, but McNamara miscommunicated with his receiver and was picked off by Derion Kendrick in the end zone.
Georgia and Alabama’s recruiting domination pays off
Michigan’s loss also ensures that the national championship will be won by a team in the South. A team from either Louisiana, South Carolina or Alabama has won every year since Ohio State won the first College Football Playoff at the end of the 2014 season. And Ohio State is the only team outside of those three states and Georgia to even appear in a College Football Playoff since the Buckeyes beat Oregon in January of 2015.
The rematch between Georgia and Alabama is also another sign that recruiting rankings matter. Either Georgia (3) or Alabama (2) has finished with the No. 1 class in Rivals’ recruiting rankings over the past five seasons and neither team has finished outside the top seven in that span.
Another chance for Kirby Smart vs. Nick Saban
Alabama coach Nick Saban’s famous unbeaten streak against his former assistants ended earlier in 2021 when Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher knocked off the Crimson Tide. Saban is 25-1 against his former assistants and four of those wins have come against Smart.
The last two haven’t been particularly close, either. After Georgia lost by a combined 10 points in Saban’s first two wins over Smart, the Bulldogs have lost 41-24 in each of the last two seasons with Bennett starting both games.
How will the rematch change things in 10 days? Georgia has now had plenty of time to see what went wrong in the SEC title game and Alabama will be without wide receiver John Metchie III after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in that game on Dec. 4. Alabama and Heisman winner Bryce Young hurt the Georgia defense with a quick passing game in the conference title game. Metchie’s absence — and Georgia’s ability to adjust — could affect how Alabama prepares this time around.