Game of December 31, 2021: Georgia 34, Michigan 11


Now, the burgeoning SEC rivals will meet again on January 10 in the 2021 CFP Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (8:00 p.m., ESPN).

For Georgia, it could represent The Great Do Over or the football equivalent of hitting your head against a wall. The Bulldogs have lost their last seven games against Alabama.

Dominant as Friday night’s win in front of 66,839 spectators was, it had to be particularly satisfying for Georgia senior quarterback Stetson Bennett. He was named the Orange Bowl’s offensive MVP after collecting 310 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and no missteps.

“This game depends on how you play,” said Bennett, a fifth-year senior and former Blackshear replacement. “I didn’t go there and I didn’t play well today despite the people. I came there and played hard and worked hard for the last few weeks because my teammates needed me to do it and we had to win.

The No.3 Bulldogs (13-1) won a college football playoff semifinal for the second time under Smart and improved to 2-1 against Michigan (12-2), who became the champion of the Big Ten.

To exploreMore from AJC on Georgia’s victory

Georgia senior cornerback Derion Kendrick has been named the Orange Bowl’s top defensive player. A transfer from Clemson who played twice in the playoffs before joining the Bulldogs, Kendrick had two interceptions and finished with five tackles, including one for a loss.

Kendrick also had a tough outing last time around against Alabama, which threw over 400 yards against Georgia.

“As a football player you are always ready to play no matter what the game is,” Kendrick said. “We are ready to go, no matter who the opponent is. Alabama happened to beat us. We need to go back and clean up some of the things that we have been doing.

The Orange Bowl was decided early enough for the Bulldogs. They quickly jumped over Michigan, scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game and five of their first six before the time for the first half ran out in midfield.

At this point, Bennett had completed 16 of 22 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. His killer shots went to Jermaine Burton for 57 yards and Brock Bowers for nine yards, and he completed 53 and 35 yards in the first half. Bennett added a key point in the first quarter as he escaped pressure from Heisman Trophy finalist Aidan Hutchinson through the left and for a gain of 20 yards.

Perhaps Bennett’s most satisfying moment came at 11:11 of the game. That’s when he hit James Cook with his third touchdown pass of the game, a 39-yarder who put the score out of reach at 34-3. It also put Bennett over 300 yards for the game.

Legend

Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) runs off Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Julius Welschof (96) for a win in the second quarter of the 2021 college football playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium on Friday in Miami Gardens, Fl. (Hyosub Shin / [email protected])

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) runs off Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Julius Welschof (96) for a win in the second quarter of the 2021 college football playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium on Friday in Miami Gardens, Fl.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
legend arrowLegend

Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) runs off Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Julius Welschof (96) for a win in the second quarter of the 2021 college football playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium on Friday in Miami Gardens, Fl. (Hyosub Shin / [email protected])

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“I mean, as a leader, Stetson doesn’t let all of this negativity go to his head. For real, ”Cook said. “He doesn’t have social networks. He wears a flip phone and lets the noise go over his head and plays soccer. That’s what I like about him.

It was also a very good night for Cook. A senior running back who grew up seven miles south of Hard Rock Stadium, Cook tallied 99 yards and 131 total yards on the night.

“My mom, aunts, cousins, stepdad, girlfriend, brother – not Dalvin (of the Minnesota Vikings) because he’s having a game – they were all there to support me tonight,” said Cook said. “I’m just happy we’re going to play another game, just get another win. I wasn’t going to be happy if we didn’t.

Meanwhile, Michigan, one of the top rushing passing teams in the country, finished with zero sacks.

“I have to give them credit,” Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said. “They performed well. The game plan was good and we couldn’t keep pace.

Leading 27-3 at halftime, the Bulldogs dodged Michigan’s biggest ball in the Wolverines’ first possession in the third quarter. Kendrick captured his second interception of the game when he knocked out Michigan’s Cade McNamara in Georgia’s end zone at 9:57. It would be the Wolverines’ last significant threat.

It was another big night for the Georgian defense, which left some doubts with the loss to Alabama four weeks ago. The Bulldogs stopped Michigan short of a fourth and goal in their 6 with seven minutes remaining. It was the third time in the night that Georgia’s offense had been able to gain the upper hand over the downs.

Averaging 452 yards and 37.7 points per game, the Wolverines had 290 yards and three points, respectively, when Georgia sent their starting defensemen to the sidelines. Almost immediately Michigan scored its first touchdown of the game on a 35-yard touchdown pass to Andrei Anthony with 4:25 left. The Wolverines also got a 2-point conversion to bring the score to 34-11.

The Wolverines, who stepped onto the pitch before the game in jerseys bearing the “run the damn ball” inscription, were limited to 88 yards on the ground.

“There was a little chip on the shoulders of our defenders,” said Smart. “Their offensive coordinator won the Broyles Award against Coach (Dan) Lanning, who we think did a hell of a job. Their offensive line received the Joe Moore Award. … But we also have quite a bit of an offensive line.

Georgia’s victory equaled the school’s record for wins in a season. The Bulldogs also had 13 wins in 2017 (13-2) and 2002.

It was Georgia’s fourth Orange Bowl appearance and third game in history with Michigan. The Bulldogs are now 2-1 against the Wolverines, facing them for the first time since 1965. They are now 3-1 in the Orange Bowl, with the last victory coming against Missouri in 1960 (14-0). .

In their other CFP appearance, the Bulldogs beat Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime at the 2017 Rose Bowl. Georgia lost to Alabama a week later in the National Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, also in overtime, 26-23.

Michigan was making its first playoff appearance. The Wolverines (13-1) won their first Big Ten Championship since 2004 this season.

Smart and Harbaugh were both trying to become the first coaches since Phillip Fulmer of Tennessee in 1998 to win a national champion for their alma mater. Only Smart still has this opportunity.


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