Georgia Heard the Noise and Silenced It with Emphatic Trip to Title GameJanuary 1, 2022
For three months, 12 wins and zero losses, Georgia listened to everyone rave about the team's dominance. After a disappointing loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, pieces of the narrative shifted as if Georgia had simply overpowered mediocre competition.
It turns out the elite Georgia team was pretty good, after all.
From the very beginning of the Orange Bowl, the Dawgs humbled Michigan. At no point did the Wolverines appear capable of leaving Hard Rock Stadium with a win.
Georgia received the opening kick and immediately cruised down the field, capping a seven-play, 75-yard drive with Stetson Bennett hitting a wide-open Brock Bowers for a touchdown. Michigan moved the ball reasonably well on the ensuing possession, but it ended with a turnover on downs.
Six snaps later, Georgia was in the end zone again. This time, running back Kenny McIntosh executed a trick play to perfection.
As if that wasn't enough, another punt by the Wolverines and a UGA field goal pushed the Dawgs' advantage to 17 less than 18 minutes into the game. By that point, even the most confident U-M fans surely felt something closer to resignation than uneasiness.
Sure, the Wolverines responded with a field goal. There was a flicker of hope for the Big Ten champions.
But when Stetson Bennett threw the rainbow of his life to James Cook, any resurgent feeling of optimism vanished again. Georgia ultimately thrashed the Wolverines 34-11, setting up a rematch with Alabama in the national championship game.
"I'm so happy for these kids, they fought their tails off," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said on ESPN. "Answered a million questions about our team, bouncing back and how you play."
Heading into Friday, several of those million questions focused on the scoring attack.
Bennett has understandably worn the "game manager" label, directing a productive unit but taking a back seat to the running game. If it works, great. But he'd only totaled 300-plus passing yards once, and it happened in that loss to Alabama as he threw two interceptions and managed just 7.1 yards per attempt.
Could someone who was benched last season actually play at a championship level?
However, the distrust in Georgia's offense extended well beyond Bennett. Who besides freshman tight end Brock Bowers would produce on a Michigan defense that entered the game ranked seventh nationally in yards allowed per pass?
What about the offensive line? After mustering a season-worst 3.6 yards per attempt opposite Bama, would the blocking unit respond against a defense allowing only 3.6 per carry?
Sure enough, the Dawgs had every answer.
Bennett put together the best outing of his college career, throwing for 310 yards—the first time he has eclipsed 300 yards in a win—and three scores with zero interceptions and adding 32 rushing yards. Four different players caught a touchdown. Led by Zamir White's 54 yards, Georgia rushed for 190 yards at a superb 5.4 clip.
The nation's top-ranked defense, though, had taken the brunt of the criticism. Alabama racked up 536 yards and 41 points in that SEC title game. So much for an overwhelming unit, right? Must've been the mediocre offenses UGA faced earlier in the year.
Well, friends, the defense is still OK.
Georgia held a fantastic rushing attack to 3.1 yards per carry, and Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara trudged to 5.6 yards per attempt with two interceptions. J.J. McCarthy threw for most of his 131 yards in garbage time.
Entering the day, Michigan's offensive line had allowed a nation-low 2.1 tackles for loss per game; the Dawgs collected seven. Most visibly, this defense was hit-ting. Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker and Jordan Davis, among others, left a mark—perhaps not solely metaphorically—on Michigan's skill-position players all night.
The discussion, of course, shifts to whether Georgia can redeem itself against Alabama with the national title at stake. The main debates are simple: Was this performance sustainable? Or will the Crimson Tide just cruise past their SEC rival anyway?
Predictions are great, but nobody actually knows what will happen. The college football world will find out together on Monday, Jan. 10, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
But after spending weeks listening to the criticism—some fair, some less so—the Dawgs offered a convincing response.
"We knew we were better than what we showed last game," Bennett said.
Georgia has one more chance to prove it. And this time, a victory would remove any lingering questions about these Dawgs.
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.