Orange Bowl 2021: Factors That Will Decide Georgia vs. Michigan Playoff

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2021

Orange Bowl 2021: Factors That Will Decide Georgia vs. Michigan Playoff

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    In preparation for the 2021 Orange Bowl, the Georgia Bulldogs and Michigan Wolverines have sunk hundreds of hours into game-planning and practicing every little detail.

    After all, a trip to the national championship is at stake.

    But from an outside perspective, we have the luxury of simplifying the game and looking at overarching storylines.

    While the game is still several days away, we're exploring three key matchupsΒ that will likely have the greatest impact on whether Georgia or Michigan advances to the national title game.

Red-Zone Scoring

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Look no further than the SEC Championship Game for the importance of red-zone offense.

    Early in the second half, Georgia reached Alabama's 20-yard line on back-to-back drives while trailing 31-17 but failed to score on both. The possessions ended with an interception and turnover on downs. The next drive, a pick-six sealed UGA's fate.

    Wasted opportunities are simply crushing errors.

    On paper, neither team has a significant advantage. Michigan's offense is ranked 48th nationally in red-zone touchdown rate, and Georgia's scoring attack is close behind at 56th. On the defensive side, Georgia is second and Michigan is 12th.

    Pointing out a need for the offenses to take advantage of every scoring opportunity is not earth-shattering analysis. That, however, doesn't make it any less important.

Michigan's Dominant Rushing Attack

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    For three months, Georgia drew constant praise as the nation's top defense. That reputation took a hit when Alabama ripped apart the unit in the SEC title game, but it didn't vanish.

    Michigan is built to test the defense again, though.

    Not only did the Wolverines allow the fewest tackles for loss in the country, it wasn't even close. They surrendered 27 tackles for loss in 13 games; the next-closest team ceded 41. To date, Michigan has posted a terrific 5.3 yards per carry and holds top-12 rankings in rushing yards per game and total rushing scores, too.

    Yes, Georgia is capable of slowing U-M's run-first attack, considering the defense is third nationally in yards allowed per rush. Only four opponents have cracked 100 total rushing yards.

    But if the Wolverines can run effectively, that's an enormous positive for the underdogs.

Stetson Bennett's Effectiveness

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Numbers tend to tell a truthful story, but they can be hollow. Such is the case for Stetson Bennett in the SEC Championship Game, when he threw for a season-high 340 yards in a 17-point loss.

    Bennett is not an overwhelming force. Even the most diehard Georgia fans would probably say the same thing. He's put up superb stats this seasonβ€”10.1 yards per attempt and 24 touchdowns to only seven interceptionsβ€”yet he is more of a quarterback the Dawgs have won with, not because of.

    How will he fare opposite another stout defense?

    Michigan has ceded just 6.0 yards per throw, which is the sixth-best mark nationally. Aidan Hutchinson (14 sacks) and David Ojabo (11) are two of the nation's top pass-rushers, and the Wolverines have allowed only four passing scores in the last seven games.

    Georgia prefers to lean on the rushing attack, and that philosophy has guided the Dawgs to the CFP. Still, they'll need Bennett to steal a few conversions to outlast the Wolverines.