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

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

December 26, 2021
Zamir White (image via The Athletic)

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Michigan is #20 overall for giving up 121.5 yards per game this season. They’re tied with Ohio State (and CMU and PSU) at #23 for giving up 3.52 yards per carry, and they’re tied at #15 for giving up 11 rushing touchdowns this season. They are a good rushing defense bordering on elite; the only team that had sustained success was Michigan State with Kenneth Walker III almost exclusively doing the damage.

Michigan’s leading tackler is middle linebacker Josh Ross with 95. Safety Daxton Hill (65) and defensive end Aidan Hutchinson are the closest, and they’re not close. Michigan does a good job of containing the edge and funneling things back inside by playing Hutchinson and outside linebacker David Ojabo wide, letting Ross, Hill, and safety Brad Hawkins (54 tackles) clean things up inside.

The Wolverines have not produced a ton of tackles for loss this season with 69, which is tied for #74 in the nation. That’s despite getting a ton of sacks from Hutchinson (14) and Ojabo (11); in other words, sacks from those two have accounted for 36% of the team’s tackles for loss. I mentioned above that they’re tied at #74; what I didn’t mention is that they’re tied with Arizona State, Ball State, and Illinois, which is not exactly a murderer’s row of defenses.

Hit the jump for more.

The Bulldogs are #31 in rushing offense (195 yards/game) and #15 in yards per carry (5.28). They have 28 rushing touchdowns, which is tied for #24 in the country.

Junior running back Zamir White (6’0″, 215 lbs.) is the leading rusher for a squad that splits carries similarly to Michigan. He has 135 carries for 718 yards (5.3 yards/carry) and 10 touchdowns. Senior James Cook (5’11”, 190), the younger brother of Minnesota Viking Dalvin Cook, has 101 attempts for 619 yards (6.1 yards/carry) and 7 scores. Both are good backs, but they’re not necessarily dynamic players. White runs behind his pads really well, and Cook is the quicker of the two.

Their run game seems somewhat similar to Michigan in 2020, with a mostly shotgun offense, frequent use of tight ends, and some occasional under center stuff. The difference is that former walk-on quarterback Stetson Bennett (5’11”, 190) is a quick-footed, efficient runner (45 carries, 251 yards, 5.6 yards/carry, 1 TD). Again, he’s not a dynamic player, but he can hurt you a little bit if you forget that he can keep the ball.

The offensive line is solid:

  • LT: 6’3″, 340 lb. senior Jamaree Salyer
  • LG: 6’3″, 340 lb. senior Justin Shaffer
  • C: 6’4″, 310 lb. redshirt freshman Sedrick Van Pran
  • RG: 6’4″, 305 lb. redshirt junior Warren Ericson
  • RT: 6’4″, 300 lb. redshirt sophomore Warren McClendon

Salyer and Shaffer are the standouts, and the Bulldogs tend to be a left-handed team. They’re not maulers, and considering all the talent on the team, they’re a little underwhelming.

Georgia’s line plays with fairly tight splits, and much like one would expect from Kirby Smart, they play conservatively on offense. When you reduce the splits, you somewhat lose the explosive runs, but you also reduce the amount of penetration allowed. Michigan isn’t suddenly going to be knifing into the backfield to make a bunch of plays behind the line.

Georgia reminds me a little bit of Michigan State with a conservative run game, but Walker was more slippery than either White or Cook. I think Michigan’s defensive tackles have improved since then, and the edge guys have played a little smarter in the run game, whereas they ran way too far upfield against MSU.

If Michigan can stop/slow down the run to make Bennett beat them with the pass, that will be key. Otherwise, this could be a very low scoring game with a couple of ball control offenses.

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