2021 Orange Bowl Preview: Pass Defense vs. Georgia Pass Offense

2021 Orange Bowl Preview: Pass Defense vs. Georgia Pass Offense

December 28, 2021
Stetson Bennett (image via AJC)

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Michigan is #22 in pass defense (194.7 yards allowed/game) and #11 in passer rating defense. They have allowed just 6.0 yards per attempt, which ties them for #6 nationally. Only four teams have topped even 200 yards passing against them.

The primary reason for Michigan’s good pass defense is the edge rushers. Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson set a school record with 14 sacks, and outside linebacker David Ojabo wasn’t far behind with 11. They often line up wide and come tearing off the edge with reckless abandon, but they’re athletic and disruptive enough to make quarterbacks do things they don’t want to do, such as step up in the pocket and make quick decisions.

On the back end, cornerback Vincent Gray has had a bounce-back season after an abysmal 2020, and counterpart Christian Turner has turned into Michigan’s best cover guy with 2 interceptions and 7 pass breakups. Safety/nickel corner Daxton Hill (2 INT, 8 PBUs) has been taken advantage of by some slot fades against quick slot guys, but overall, he has also been very good.

Hit the jump for more.

Georgia tied FAU for the 54th most passing yards per game (247.9), but they average 9.2 yards per attempt (#9) and are #6 in passing efficiency. To a certain extent, they’re reminiscent of Michigan in that they have a game manager quarterback, a good run game, and the ability to create some big plays in the passing game.

Senior quarterback Stetson Bennett (5’11”, 190 lbs.) looks like a walk-on quarterback, and that’s because he is. He overtook super-recruit J.T. Daniels (6’3″, 210) partly because he’s a better runner, but Bennett has also sported better passing numbers. So far this year, Bennett has completed 148/231 passes (64.1% completions) for 2,321 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. While Daniels has a better completion percentage (72.3%), he has 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while averaging significantly fewer yards per attempts (10.1 for Bennett and 7.7 for Daniels).

Bennett does not have a strong arm, but he has some explosive targets, especially in freshman tight end Brock Bowers (6’4″, 230), who has 47 catches for 791 yards (16.8 yards/catch) and 11 touchdowns. Bowers legitimately moves like a big wide receiver and is a matchup problem for a lot of teams. Redshirt freshman Ladd McConkey (6’0″, 185) largely plays out of the slot and is #2 on the team with 28 catches for 430 yards (15.4 yards/catch) and 5 touchdowns. Sophomore Jermaine Burton (6’0″, 200) averages 17.9 yards per catch and has grabbed 4 touchdowns this season. Senior running back James Cook (5’11”, 190) is the biggest threat out of the backfield with 21 catches and 3 touchdowns on the year.

The Bulldogs are #4 in sacks allowed this year, having given up just 11 all season. I discussed the offensive line in the run game post (LINK). They play well as a unit and protect the quarterback well by using the run game and play action. Bennett is also pretty quick and does a good job of avoiding rushers.

I think Brock Bowers is going to be a huge key to the game. In fact, my guess is that as Bowers goes, so will go Georgia. He’s too fast and too big for any of Michigan’s linebackers to handle, and he’s going to be a problem for freshman safety Rod Moore, too. Coverage on Bowers will probably come down to Brad Hawkins, who’s physical and experienced. Tight ends have not really hurt Michigan too much this season, but Bowers is the most athletic one Michigan has faced.

I do think Hutchinson and Ojabo are going to have an effect. They’re the best pass rushing duo in the country, and the second best (Alabama) got a sack out of outside linebacker Will Anderson in the Alabama victory. But will that be enough?

Georgia can’t sit back and throw the ball all game, but they can set things up with play action. They will probably do things to try to slow down the rush (screens, draws, chipping with tight ends), and Michigan’s linebackers and safeties need to be ready. I think the defensive backs will hold up well, but the intermediate passing game and Bennett’s feet could be a problem for the Wolverines. They need to slow down Bowers and prevent Bennett from taking off like Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez and Penn State’s Sean Clifford did at times.

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