3 keys to a Michigan win vs. Georgia

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We are just days away from the College Football Playoff semifinals.

After Michigan lost to Michigan State in the middle of the season, it had just one game that was decided by one score or less — which was a 21-17 win against Penn State. The Wolverines’ offense has clicked on all cylinders after that loss to the Spartans, in a game that the maize and blue very easily could’ve won. The Josh Gattis led offense has scored over 40 points in the last three games that it has played — two of those games being against Ohio State and Iowa.

Things may not be so easy come for the high-flying Wolverines come Friday.

The maize and blue will be facing the Georgia Bulldogs in the semifinals, which is the first meeting between the two teams since 1965. Georgia was the consensus No. 1 team in the nation for the majority of the year until it got thrashed by Alabama in the SEC Championship game, 41-24.

The Bulldogs will still enter the contest with the top-ranked defense in the country, and it will be the biggest test of the year for the Michigan offense.

Here are three keys for a Michigan win on Friday.

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Start fast on offense

Photo: Isaiah Hole

No team had scored more than 17 points against Georgia all season until Alabama scored 41 against the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship game.

In fact, the Bulldogs have had three shutouts this season, and they held five teams to seven or fewer points. The Georgia defense has looked extremely stout all year, which is why UGA has the top-ranked defense in the country.

Georgia only allows teams to score 9.5 points-per-game, and it allows 253.2 yards-per-game. So, what changed in the one game against Alabama?

Once the Crimson Tide found their stride on offense, they never looked back. While the first quarter was a scoreless one for Alabama, it then scored 24 points in the second quarter, then the Tide scored 17 more in the second half.

The Bulldogs haven’t faced that kind of adversity, defensively, all year and it showed. Michigan has done extremely well on offense the back half of the year, and it has been getting out to quick starts the last few games.

Josh Gattis had done an excellent job getting his skilled players the ball early. We have seen the end-around to AJ Henning, screens to Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, and Gattis has even called some pretty nifty trick plays that have had the opposing defense stricken.

If the Wolverines could come out and get a quick score, then it would be interesting to see how Georgia would respond.

Don't allow breakdowns in the middle of the field

Georgia tight end Brock Bowers (19) runs into the end zone for a touchdown against Alabama defensive back Jordan Battle (9) during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Michigan defense has been sensational under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. The Wolverines went from a bottom-tier defense last year, to being a legit top-tier defense in the nation this season.

Michigan is ranked 21st against the run, allowing 121.5 yards-per-game, and it is ranked 22nd against the pass, allowing 194.7 yards-per-game. From top-to-bottom, this is a very good defense, and it has been all year.

The only thing that has seemed to hurt the Wolverines is when the opposing quarterback either has time in the pocket or if he can run around to buy some time, then the coverage may break down — mainly against the opposing tight end.

The only play that seemed to work for Iowa was when it decided to throw to tight end Sam LaPorta. There were breakdowns in coverage against LaPorta, and it was primarily from the Wolverine linebackers.

All three starting linebackers for Michigan: Nikhai Hill-Green, Josh Ross, and Junior Colson have low grades from PFF in coverage. They have a 55.2, 48.8, and 46.2 grades in coverage, respectively.

Mike Macdonald does move his matchups around, but it seems like the linebackers are the primary defender against the opposing tight ends, and the Bulldogs will possess the biggest challenge to this Michigan unit.

UGA has a freshman phenom in Brock Bowers. Bowers is the Bulldogs leading pass catcher this year, he has 47 receptions for 791 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Whether it’s Stetson Bennett or JT Daniels that lines up under center for Georgia on Friday, they will be looking for Bowers often. The Michigan defense will really be asked to stay focused the entire play and not allow Bowers to get open in the middle of the field.

It will be intriguing to see if Macdonald matches Daxton Hill — or whoever is lining up at nickel — up with Bowers to slow down the aerial attack.

Must give McNamara time

Photo: Isaiah Hole

If the Michigan offense is going to start fast in the game, then it’s because the Wolverine offensive line is playing at an elite level — whether it’s run or pass blocking.

Georgia has a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but its front seven has been a force to be reckoned with most of the year.

The Bulldogs’ top four sack leaders are all linebackers: Nakobe Dean has five, Adam Anderson has five, Robert Beal Jr. and Channing Tindall both have 4.5. sacks this year.

It seems that UGA has elite linebacking play because of how much attention the Georgia defensive line must take on. The man that causes a ton of havoc for the Bulldogs is Jordan Davis. While his stats may not scream greatness — two sacks and 28 tackles — he finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Davis, among his fellow lineman, must have multiple bodies helping to keep them out of the backfield.

The Wolverines have done a great job at keeping McNamara upright all year, but this is going to be a bigger challenge — at least on paper — than we have seen this year. The Bulldogs average 3.1 sacks-per-game, which ranks them sixth nationally for sacks each game.

McNamara has been extremely efficient all year, and he will be needed to do just that on Friday against Georgia. But the key will be to give him enough time and keep the vaunted UGA defense out of the backfield.

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