Georgia Followed the Michigan State Blueprint to beat Michigan

by Team Del Genio

Georgia appeared in a good position to have success running the football against Michigan in the college football semifinals. In our report recommending to lay the points with the Bulldogs (our College Football Playoff Game of the Year), we identified that the Wolverines “can be beaten by teams with strong rushing attacks that stick to that approach.” 

Earlier in the season, Michigan State gouged the Wolverines with a 6.7 yards per carry average led by Kenneth Walker III. The Spartans averaged 8.1 yards per play in handing Michigan their only loss of the season. Yet it was not just Michigan State that found success running the football against the Wolverines. Rutgers ran the ball 42 times against them for 196 yards and a 4.67 yards per carry average. Maryland ran the ball 44 times of 181 yards with a 4.11 yards per carry average. Led by running back Zamir White, Georgia averages 5.3 yards per carry with their ground game contributing 195 yards of the 442 yards they produce per game. They appeared to be in a great position to find success running against the Wolverines just as these three other Big Ten teams had done.

Michigan had been exposed at times this season against opponents going up-tempo on offense. First-year defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald comes from the Baltimore Ravens where substitution packages on defense are common defensive tactics. Opponents going up-tempo makes it difficult to substitute players and MacDonald has been caught trying to do too much in getting favorable matchups with either penalties or players not ready to defend the play. Michigan was not used to the national stage in the playoffs. They had not even covered a bowl game point spread in their last four opportunities. 

In their 34-11 victory against the Wolverines in the playoff semifinals on the last day of 2021, Georgia ran the ball 35 times for 190 yards. While they were not as efficient as Michigan State was, they were not reliant on one bell-cow back as the Spartans were. The Bulldogs averaged 5.4 yards per carry led by four running backs who each carried the ball four times. White was the featured back with 12 carries for 54 yards. 

Georgia's ability to run the football opened things up for Stetson Bennett and the Bulldogs passing game. Bennett completed 20 of 30 passes for 310 yards with three touchdown passes and without an interception. 

Running the football helped take some of the pressure off the Bulldogs' defense that came into the playoffs with something to prove. Georgia gave up 536 yards in their 41-24 loss to Alabama as a 6-point favorite in the SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide averaged 7.66 yards per game against the Bulldogs, yet Georgia had covered the point spread in nineteen of their last twenty-seven games on the road after allowing at least 6.25 yards per play. The Bulldogs had only covered once in their last three games in a 45-0 win at Georgia Tech before playing Michigan, yet they have covered the point spread in seven of their last nine games after only covering the point spread once in their last three games. 

This is a football program that would not be satisfied by just reaching the national championship game. Kirby Smart already did that with this program four years ago when they lost to Alabama and Tua Tagovailoa's second-half comeback in an overtime thriller four years ago. This program has playoff experience, and these players have competed in many high-profile showdowns given their competition in the SEC. This Wolverines team was just 2-4 last year. Georgia has covered the point spread in six of their last eight bowl games. They have covered the point spread in ten of their last fourteen games played on a neutral field when the oddsmakers install them as the favorite. That is why we recommended taking Georgia minus the points. 

Now all eyes are on yet another rematch between Georgia and Alabama. 

Good luck - TDG.

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