Orange Bowl 2021: Individual Matchups to Watch in Georgia vs. Michigan

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2021

Orange Bowl 2021: Individual Matchups to Watch in Georgia vs. Michigan

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    The Georgia Bulldogs and Michigan Wolverines will square off in the 2021 Orange Bowl on Friday with a national championship game appearance on the line.

    It's a matchup of two of the best teams college football has to offer this year. And just as styles make fights, individual matchups can define games.

    Both teams have talent all over the field. Michigan won the Big Ten, with the one blemish on its record coming from an upset loss to Michigan State. Georgia was dominant all year until losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

    Michigan will be looking for its first national championship appearance since the inception of the BCS in 1998. Georgia is on the hunt for its first national title since 1980, its first championship game since the 2017 season and potentially some revenge if it gets a rematch with Alabama.

    Here are the individual matchups that will factor heavily into the final result.

Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo vs. Warren McClendon and Jamaree Salyer

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    It's no secret that Michigan boasts one of the best pass-rushing duos in the country. Both Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo could hear their names pretty early in the 2022 NFL draft.

    Hutchinson has been the one to grab all the headlines. The Heisman Trophy finalist had 14 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Perhaps most impressively, he stepped up when it mattered most and delivered his best performance against Ohio State in Week 13.

    However, Ojabo deserves recognition too. He's a little less refined than his senior teammate, but his raw skill in coming off the edge has brought strong production as well. He finished the season with 11 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles.

    Their ability to disrupt coming off the edge has been key for Michigan's defense, but they will draw two worthy opponents Friday in Georgia left tackle Jamaree Salyer and right tackle Warren McClendon.

    According to PFF, Salyer (0.6 percent) led the nation in lowest pressure percentage allowed, while McClendon ranked third (1.5 percent).

    Even more important than how these matchups play out in the passing game is how the defensive ends can help in the running game. Their ability to set the edge and turn runners into the teeth of the defense is going to be important.

    Georgia has averaged 5.2 yards per carry this season and is 27th in the country in rush rate. If the Bulldogs can avoid getting into obvious passing downs through the ground game, they will.

Josh Gattis vs. Dan Lanning

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    Alabama may have exposed Georgia's defense as not being one of the all-time great units in college football history, but that was a high bar to clear. This Bulldogs defensive unit is still as shutdown as it gets in football this year.

    The Oregon Ducks sure thought so. That's why they snagged defensive coordinator Dan Lanning as their next head football coach. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, he'll still be coaching for the team throughout the College Football Playoff.

    That will provide some continuity for a unit that should be looking to reassert its dominance.

    It also creates a fun chess match, as Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has done a great job with the Wolverines offense this season. He won this year's Broyles Award, which recognizes the top assistant coach in the country.

    It's an honor in which Lanning was a finalist.

    Gattis will need to come up with a creative way to attack this defense. Alabama had the benefit of having a Heisman Trophy winner in Bryce Young at quarterback. Gattis doesn't have that luxury but has a dynamic alternate quarterback in J.J. McCarthy who could make things interesting.

    They might not be on the field, but Gattis and Lanning are going to be two of the most important people in this game.

Brock Bowers vs. Michigan Linebackers and Safeties

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    The Georgia passing attack doesn't always get a lot of credit, but it has a burgeoning superstar in freshman Brock Bowers.

    The 6'4", 230-pound tight end has provided quarterback Stetson Bennett with a go-to dynamic playmaker throughout the season. And he caught fire through the final few weeks of the regular season. He was one of few bright spots against Alabama, recording 10 catches for 139 yards and a touchdown, bringing his total to five scores over the final three games of the year.

    In addition to providing a matchup nightmare, Bowers can do a little blocking too. His overall PFF grade of 92.2 was the highest in the SEC for tight ends.

    Georgia will utilize Bowers all over the formation, but the most interesting matchup to watch will be when he is covered by Michigan safety Daxton Hill. The safety is only 6'0" and 192 pounds but is a versatile defender who is ranked just outside the top 100 on Bleacher Report's latest big board.

    If he can show that he can cover bigger tight ends, it would go a long way in improving that draft stock. It would also be key for Michigan's chances to get a CFP National Championship berth.