Michigan football, Georgia close practices in hopes to play Orange Bowl as pandemic rages

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DANIA BEACH, Fla. — The College Football Playoff continued revising its safety guidelines Monday.

Orange Bowl participants Michigan football and Georgia are no longer required to open 15 minutes of their respective practices to the media due to COVID-19 concerns, effectively blocking external health assessments of either team prior to the game on Dec. 31.

Instead, both teams were asked to provide pool photos and 15 minutes of videography that could be disseminated to reporters covering the event.

“I've got a tremendous amount of respect for our medical staff and the precautions they've taken to prepare our kids,” Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning said in a Zoom call Monday morning. “I also give our players a lot of credit for how diligent they've been on taking proper precautions, whether it be wearing the masks through the hotel or when they're out and about.”

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Narrow viewing opportunities scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday would have offered windows into the relative health of each roster, both in terms of physical injuries and any absences potentially related to COVID-19 at a time when the omicron variant is surging across the country.

Georgia’s backup quarterback JT Daniels tested positive for COVID-19 last week and wasn't seen by reporters who watched the Bulldogs enter their hotel on Sunday. There haven't been any reports of players or staffers testing positive within the Michigan program, and the Wolverines held a team-wide booster shot event several days before departing Ann Arbor.

The latest amendment comes on the heels of numerous changes instituted by the CFP last week as cases soared throughout college and professional sports. Teams playing in the national semifinals were given the option to arrive at the game site as few as 48 hours before kickoff rather than the customary five days, though neither Michigan nor Georgia altered its travel plans. Any school unable to participate in the Orange Bowl or Cotton Bowl, which is hosting No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Cincinnati, would risk forfeiting unless their opponent is also unable to field a team, at which point the game would be declared a "no contest" rather than postponing to a later date.

The committee did offer a smidgeon of leeway for the national championship game, which is scheduled for Jan. 10 at Lucas Oil Stadium, but can now be played as late as Jan. 14. If both teams who reach that point are unable to play, the game will be ruled a "no contest" and the national championship would be vacated for the season.

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Teams participating in the semifinals are continuing to use the testing protocols they followed during the regular season, which vary by conference. The three conferences involved in this year's CFP — Big Ten, SEC and American Athletic Conference — have accepted the protocols used by other leagues.

All players, coaches and staff members with access to the field on gameday must either test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of kickoff or be fully vaccinated. The athletic director and chief medical officer from each school are responsible for certifying that information.

The only injury update offered by U-M centered on tailback Blake Corum, who hurt his ankle Nov. 6 during a win over Indiana and spent the remainder of the season recovering — though he did return for cameo appearances against Ohio State and Iowa. Corum, who scored on a 67-yard touchdown run in the Big Ten championship, said his ankle was roughly 85% healed against the Hawkeyes and later told reporters he expected to reach 100% by the time Michigan faced Georgia on New Year’s Eve.

Michigan running back Blake Corum warms up before the Big Ten championship game against Iowa on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Michigan running back Blake Corum warms up before the Big Ten championship game against Iowa on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

His prediction seems to have come to fruition.

“Blake is healthy,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said in a Zoom call Monday. “We're a healthy team, and that's where we're fortunate. Being able to take the last few weeks and get ourselves back to 100%, because as everyone noticed the last few weeks of the season, we were playing some really tough teams, but we had some bumps and bruises along the way, certain players being out. But the good thing for us is the next man stepped up and was always ready.

“We're excited to finally get a chance to see a full-speed Blake Corum. I think a little bit of what people saw about him in the Big Ten championship game was him catching himself back up to full strength, and he's ready to go, he's excited, and we're glad to have him back to 100%.”

Corum echoed those comments in another call shortly after Gattis left the dais.

“You know, personally I feel great,” Corum said. “I feel like my ankle is finally back. I feel like I have my cutting ability, my speed and my top-end speed, my burst. I feel like I have all that back.”

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A fully healthy Corum would be welcomed for a group preparing to face the second-best rushing defense in the country behind Wisconsin. Corum will enter Friday’s game needing 61 yards to join fellow tailback Hassan Haskins as a 1,000-yard rusher.

Together, Corum and Haskins have combined for 2,227 yards and 31 touchdowns this season to pace a rushing attack ranked 10th in the nation.

Contact Michael Cohen at mcohen@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh directs his team before the Big Ten championship game against Iowa on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh directs his team before the Big Ten championship game against Iowa on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football, Georgia close 2021 Orange Bowl practices