2021 Orange Bowl: Georgia 34, Michigan 11

2021 Orange Bowl: Georgia 34, Michigan 11

January 1, 2022
Georgia LB Nakobe Dean forces a fumble by Michigan RB Blake Corum (image via Zimbio)

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Never underestimate recruiting rankings. I listen to Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman’s podcast pretty regularly, and Mandel made the point that usually in these playoffs, the more talented team wins. Winning as an underdog in the CFP is very, very tough to do. Georgia has one of the top few classes every single year, while Michigan seems to be anywhere from about #8 to #25 on a yearly basis. So when walk-on center Andrew Vastardis gets obliterated by the #22 player in the country (6’5″, 275 lb. Travon Walker) on a pull . . . yeah, that’s what happens. This isn’t Rutgers or Indiana or Northwestern with 250-260 lb. 3-star defensive ends. The bottom line is that Georgia is the more talented team, at almost every position.

Hit the jump for more.

How did the coaches do? Honestly, I think Michigan’s coaches did fine. It’s easy to blame them for being unprepared. It’s much harder to realize that any team that gets beaten badly looks like it was out-coached. Michigan couldn’t run the ball, because the defensive line was too big and fast, and the linebackers were too fast. Michigan couldn’t pass the ball because the defensive line was too big and fast. I have a couple questions about things that happened (Jaylen Harrell covering Brock Bowers, a swing pass to Donovan Edwards near the goal line, etc.), but there are questionable play calls or schemes in almost every game. One play call here or there does not change the outcome of the game.

The Joe Moore Award. Michigan was awarded the Joe Moore Award for having the best offensive line in the country, and as I’ve been saying for several weeks, this Michigan line is overrated. They got schooled by Georgia’s defensive line, linebackers, and coaches. Now maybe there aren’t many schools in the country who can do that to Michigan’s line, but Georgia certainly didn’t live in Alabama’s backfield. Georgia allowed a higher yards per carry average to Alabama, Missouri, Florida, and UAB. Georgia allowed more points to Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and South Carolina. I’m not saying all those teams or lines are better than Michigan’s, but 27 carries for 88 yards is pretty paltry, and Michigan allowed 4 sacks and a ton of quarterback pressures.

Cade McNamara vs. J.J. McCarthy. There’s plenty of time to discuss the two quarterbacks over the off-season, so I’ll keep the discussion to this game only. Michigan’s offensive line couldn’t stand up to Georgia’s front seven, which put McNamara (11/19, 106 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT) in a bind. I don’t know that he ever truly had a clean pocket to throw the ball. He was replaced later in the game by McCarthy (7/17, 131 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT), and Harbaugh said it was because McCarthy’s athleticism gave him a better chance to escape the pressure. McCarthy made some great throws, and he made some terrible throws. He escaped from some clean pockets, and he made some amazing escapes from the grasp or near grasp of defenders. You can see the potential of McCarthy, but he’s still very erratic with his decision-making and accuracy.

Vincent Gray got exposed. I made a tweet about Gray last night that made some people angry, but I stand by it. Gray had a rebound season in 2021 after a terrible 2020, but he’s still the same athlete. He just played better and had more confidence this season. Regardless, he got torched and allowed two wide-open touchdowns to Georgia. One was a halfback pass, but it was man coverage and I don’t know that Gray ever knew who was throwing the ball, so there’s no excuse for coming off his receiver. The second was a bomb from Stetson Bennett to Jermaine Burton for a 57-yard touchdown, and Gray basically stopped running as he looked up for the ball while Burton got about 7 yards of separation. Gray was a 3-star and the #700 player in the country. Burton was a 4-star and the #82 player in the country. It’s extremely difficult to make up for a lack of athleticism and speed on an island. That’s why it’s imperative for Michigan to recruit elite skill players. It’s not a coincidence that the best Michigan defensive backs in the past decade or so are 4-star Jourdan Lewis, 4-star David Long, 4-star Lavert Hill, 5-star Jabrill Peppers, etc. On a national level, 3-star caliber skill players just can’t cut it.

Speaking of tweets that pissed people off . . . I made a tweet about how Michigan can’t recruit Mississippi, but Michigan can get the best players from Idaho. Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean was perhaps the best player on the field. He made 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble. Michigan took its fastest running, Blake Corum, and tried to get to the edge in multiple ways, and Dean didn’t bat an eyelash. He’s just as fast, if not faster than Corum. Dean is a 5-star from Mississippi. Michigan hasn’t been able to land a single recruit from the state of Mississippi since cornerback Jeremy LeSueur in 1999. It is what it is, but the best football in the country is played in California, Texas, and the deep south (Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, etc.). Michigan has landed good players from under-recruited areas (Rhode Island, Connecticut, etc.), but when you’re geographically or culturally cut off from Mississippi and a variety of other high-level recruiting areas, it makes it difficult. The Wolverines will almost never get 5-star kids from the deep south; their best bet is to get underrated guys who have to leave the region in order to get a chance to play at a big-time program.

I haven’t mentioned Aidan Hutchinson yet. And that’s because Hutchinson wasn’t much of a factor. He finished with 4 tackles and 1 tackle for loss. He got after the quarterback a couple times, but Bennett was too quick and the opposite-side edge players let Bennett escape. Oh, and I certainly haven’t mentioned outside linebacker David Ojabo, because he literally did not register any defensive stats. Hutchinson was held a few times (it only was called once), but that’s the norm. He couldn’t overpower 5-star, #10 overall player in 2018 Jamaree Salyer, who’s 6’3″ and 340 lbs.

I predicted a 31-20 Georgia victory. Nothing that happened really surprised me too much, except I expected Ojabo and Hutchinson to flush Bennett into a sack or two. I thought Michigan could scheme up a few more chunk passing plays, too, but McNamara just never had time to throw. Michigan just can’t hang with the elite teams in the SEC, and that’s the case with most teams. It’s disappointing, but the ceiling for the Big Ten champions is a national championship game appearance if they get a good first round draw, such as an ACC or AAC or Big 12 or Pac-12 team. This was not a good first round draw.

This was a great season. As disappointing as New Year’s Eve was, Michigan had an excellent year with their first College Football Playoff appearance, the first win over Ohio State in ten years, a ton of scoring, some great defense, a new record-holder for sacks, and a ton of exciting plays and players. Hopefully this sets the stage for great things to come.

Go Blue! Go Blue.

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