A Failure to Establish the Run Dooms Michigan against Georgia

by Hollywood Sports

Friday, Dec 31, 2021
Georgia entered the SEC Championship having not allowed more than the 378 yards that Tennessee put up against them in a 41-17 loss to the Bulldogs. But Alabama generated 536 yards of offense against Georgia en route to winning the SEC Championship by a 41-24 score. 

The Bulldogs had not allowed more than 17 points in all of their games this season before facing off against the Crimson Tide in SEC Championship Game. Alabama only averaged 4.4 Yards-Per-Carry in their rushing attack in that game — but they shellshocked the Georgia defense behind the arm of quarterback Bryce Young who completed 26 of 44 passes for 421 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. Only two other opponents passed for more than 214 yards against them this season. 

I did not see Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara being able to approach those numbers that won Young the Heisman Trophy in the College Football Semifinals. McNamara is a game-manager who did not attempt more than 17 passes in a game until the Wolverines’ fifth game in October — and that was influenced by the Wolverines’ inability to run the football at Wisconsin. Michigan had thrown the ball more than 38 times just twice before that game. They wanted to ground-and-pound — but good luck doing that against the Georgia defense that ranks third in the nation by allowing only 81.7 rushing yards per game — and held opposing rushers to just 2.6 Yards-Per-Carry. The Bulldogs’ defensive line is huge — they average a height of 6’4 with a weight of 307 points. The Wolverines like to deploy inside-zone blocking plays — but Georgia thrives when thwarting that approach. Georgia only allowed one team to gain more than 127 rushing yards this season — and that was a Florida team that lost 34-7 to the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs held eight of their opponents to under 10 points — and they shut out three teams. Alabama only managed 115 rushing yards which were the most Georgia had allowed in four games. 

Sure enough, Michigan only gained 84 yards on the ground in 27 carries in their 34-11 loss to the Bulldogs in the College Football Semifinals on Friday. Take away the non-sack yards and the Wolverines had 20 rushing attempts for 85 yards for a 4.25 Yards-Per-Carry average that looked like what Alabama was able to produce against them. But the difference was in the passing game. McNamara and freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy combined to complete only 18 of their 36 passes for 237 yards with one touchdown and two costly interceptions from McNamara. Michigan was not able to come close to repeating what Young and the Alabama passing attack was able to accomplish four weeks before this game. 

Michigan offense has slowed down significantly all season if they cannot get their ground game going. They averaged only 2.6 YPC against Wisconsin but benefitted from three early turnovers to take control of that game. They only averaged 3.5 YPC against Penn State in a tense 21-17 victory in Happy Valley. They managed only 112 rushing yards from 38 carries for a 2.94 YPC average against Rutgers in a 20-13 win against a 5-7 Scarlet Knights team. And against Georgia, they were sitting on a mere three points until McCarthy engineered a late drive to put a touchdown on the board. 

Now Georgia gets their opportunity to avenge their loss to the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship Game. Did Alabama’s uniquely powerful passing attack expose a weakness in the Bulldogs that only they can exploit? Or did Kirby Smart and his coaching staff use that game to plug up the potential holes that existed in what has been an otherwise historically dominant defense?

We will find out on January 10th — but I have some strong feelings on the subject. 

Best of luck for us — Frank.

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