Orange Bowl 2021: Schedule, Top Storylines to Follow in Georgia vs. Michigan

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIDecember 28, 2021

Orange Bowl 2021: Schedule, Top Storylines to Follow in Georgia vs. Michigan

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Georgia may have been the most dominant team in the country for most of the 2021 season, but it's the only one among the four programs in the College Football Playoff that isn't a conference champion. That's because the Bulldogs were knocked off by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

    However, Georgia still got invited to the CFP, marking its second playoff appearance in program history. And it will look to bounce back and keep its impressive season going when it takes on Michigan in the Orange Bowl, a CFP semifinal contest, on Friday. The Bulldogs and Wolverines will kick off on New Year's Eve at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

    This will be only the third time that Georgia and Michigan have faced off, including the first since 1965. The winner will go on to face either Alabama or Cincinnati, the two teams competing in the Cotton Bowl, in the CFP National Championship Game on Jan. 10.

    Here are some of the top storylines to follow heading into Friday's Orange Bowl matchup.

Can Michigan's Offense Excel Against Georgia's Vaunted Defense?

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Michigan's offense has played well throughout the season. The Wolverines rank 18th in the country with 451.9 total yards per game, and they've been particularly effective on the ground, averaging 223.8 rushing yards per contest (10th-most in the nation).

    A key reason for Michigan's offensive success has been the play of Hassan Haskins. The senior running back has rushed for 1,288 yards and 20 touchdowns, helping power the Wolverines' unit.

    However, Michigan will now face a big test. Georgia ranks second in the country in total yards allowed per game (254.4) and first in points allowed per contest (9.54). Those numbers would be even better if Alabama didn't put 41 points in a 17-point win over the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game this month.

    "This is going to be a heavyweight matchup, two heavyweight teams offensively and defensively going against each other on Friday night," Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said, perΒ Isaiah Hole of Wolverines Wire.

    Whichever side wins the matchup between Michigan's offense and Georgia's defense could decide which team ends up earning the victory in Miami. It should be exciting to watch how it unfolds.

Bennett Looking to Silence Any of His Doubters

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Entering the 2021 season, many expected junior JT Daniels to be Georgia's starting quarterback. However, he's dealt with several injuries, and the Bulldogs have opted to stick with senior Stetson Bennett, who has helped lead the team to success.

    Bennett didn't put up huge numbers in most of Georgia's wins, but he also didn't need to, considering the number of lopsided victories. He passed for 340 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in defeat to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, though.

    Now, Bennett appears to be feeling confident as he prepares to lead Georgia's offense against Michigan.

    "We feel good, we practiced hard, watched a lot of film on Michigan, but we're feeling good," Bennett said, per Mike Griffith of DawgNation.

    Perhaps that will lead to an impressive showing for Bennett, as he could prove any of his doubters wrong and show that the Bulldogs made the right decision in sticking with him as their starting QB this season.

Will Momentum Play a Factor in the Matchup?

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Georgia may have won its first 12 games of the season, but it will be the only CFP team that is coming off a loss heading into the semifinals. Even though the Bulldogs played so well this year, they're not heading into the Orange Bowl with a ton of momentum.

    However, Michigan is. After taking their lone loss of the season on Oct. 30 (at Michigan State), the Wolverines had an impressive run that got them into the College Football Playoff. And they'll look to keep their momentum rolling in the program's first CFP appearance.

    Michigan is currently on a five-game winning streak, a stretch that has included an impressive win over Ohio State in its regular-season finale on Nov. 27 and a big victory over Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 4. The Wolverines won their first Big Ten title since 2004.

    It's been several weeks since either team played, so perhaps momentum won't play much of a factor. But if it does, then Michigan has a clear advantage. For Georgia, it will need to find a way to slow down the Wolverines and get back on the right track.