The College Football Playoff action continues on Friday night in the Orange Bowl as No. 2 Michigan takes on No. 3 Georgia in the Orange Bowl. This marks the first appearance in the CFP for the Wolverines after Jim Harbaugh’s squad won the Big Ten championship to close the season. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, will be making their second appearance since the 2017 season.
Behind a dominant defense, the Bulldogs started 12-0 and spent most of the season at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 and CFP rankings. But after a 41-24 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, there are questions about whether this Georgia team is truly elite or if it just looked that way during a relatively easy regular-season schedule.
Unlike Georgia, Michigan suffered a loss against Michigan State in the regular season. But the Wolverines enter the CFP having played arguably their best football of the season in their two most-recent games, which were a 42-27 win over rival Ohio State to win the Big Ten East and a 42-3 win over Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game.
In some ways, these teams mirror each other as both rely on stout defense and efficient but unspectacular offense. Both are evidence that an explosive passing game isn’t the only way to college football’s biggest stage.
LIVE updates: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Georgia in Orange Bowl semifinal
How to watch Orange Bowl live
Game: Orange BowlDate: Friday, Dec. 31 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ETLocation: Hard Rock Stadium — Miami Gardens, FloridaTV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
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Michigan vs. Georgia: Need to know
Georgia’s run defense: Michigan thrives on its ability to run the ball, but Georgia suffocates opponents by stopping the run. Michigan’s Hassan Haskins ran for 169 yards and five touchdowns while averaging six yards per carry on 28 attempts against Ohio State. Iowa’s vaunted defense did a decent job of bottling up Haskins, but the Wolverines still managed to run for 211 yards and four touchdowns as a team against the Hawkeyes. It was the first time Iowa allowed 200 yards rushing this season. It was an impressive performance, but Georgia’s defense is statistically better than Iowa’s. The Bulldogs are allowing just 2.6 yards per rush attempt and just 81.7 yards rushing per game. Michigan ranks 12th nationally in yards per carry at 5.32. Two teams that Georgia has played, Kentucky and Florida, are among the 11 teams ahead of the Bulldogs in that category, and they had mixed results. UK finished with just 51 yards rushing against Georgia, but Florida did amass 161 yards on the ground.
Red zone battle: Georgia ranks first nationally in red zone defense while Michigan ranks seventh in red zone offense. Only five times on 64 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line have the Wolverines come away without any points. But they will have their work cut out for them if they reach the red zone against Georgia. Opponents have reached the red zone just 25 times against Georgia this season, and the Bulldogs have held them without points on 10 occasions. Just eight times has UGA allowed a touchdown to opponents on trips to the red zone.
Georgia’s QB option: After testing positive for COVID-19 this month, Georgia’s backup quarterback JT Daniels is back with the team and providing at least some element of mystery at the position. While Stetson Bennett has started 10 games at quarterback this season and figures to start again, Daniels is an accomplished player in his own right who gives Georgia another option if the offense sputters. The former five-star prospect and USC transfer has at least forced Michigan’s defense to prepare for the possibility of facing a more pocket-oriented passer than Bennett, who is mobile and comfortable throwing on the run.
Orange Bowl prediction, picks
Featured Game | Michigan Wolverines vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Alabama exposed some flaws on the back end of Georgia’s defense, but the Crimson Tide did so with the help of a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in Bryce Young and a couple of star receivers in Jameson Williams and John Metchie. Michigan won’t be able to challenge the Bulldogs on the perimeter in the same way, and UGA’s elite front seven should be able to contain the Wolverines’ ground game. Georgia’s offense can still reach a higher gear and it should have enough innovation left in the tank to find the end zone against a stingy Michigan defense. Prediction: Georgia (-6.5)
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